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Blacks hoping for change outside and inside Democratic Party during midterm elections

By Barrington M. Salmon -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: Oct 30, 2018 - 12:28:52 PM

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Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, the Democratic nominee for the Governor of Florida, accompanied by U.S. Rep. John Lewis, left, speaks to students at a Vote Early, Vote Loud Rally at Florida Memorial University's Lou Rawls Center for the Performing Arts, Oct. 25 in Miami Gardens, Fla. Photos: AP
WASHINGTON—The 2016 elevation of Donald Trump as America’s 45th president first alarmed and has now stirred apprehensive Blacks to action.

During this 2018 political cycle, that concern has morphed into a flurry of organizing, mobilizing and action in reaction to Mr. Trump’s overt hostility, constant demeaning comments and attacks against Black politicians, athletes and other public figures and policies designed to put Blacks and people of color in “their place.”

Of greater concern has been his administration’s supposed “law and order” pronouncements signaling the decision, for example, not to force corrupt and brutal police departments to adhere to consent decrees; the ratcheting up of prosecutions in the failed War on Drugs and the reversal of five decades of progress in the Civil Rights arena.

Black men and women, almost all Democrats, have been winning primary and other races, overwhelming Republicans and spurring hope for a Democratic rout in the midterms. 


Longtime Democratic political operative Donna Brazile said in several interviews earlier this year that the 2018 midterms involves issues such as women’s empowerment, economic equality, voter registration and voter suppression. There’s a veritable explosion of Black women who are running for office seeking governorships and seats in Congress, state legislatures, judgeships and other elected positions across the political landscape, she said. Much of this nascent Black female political activism has been fueled by opposition to the Trump administration’s White nationalist agenda, disapproval of his divisive anti-Black and anti-woman policies, and an intense desire for change.

Ms. Brazile, the first Black woman to manage a presidential campaign, said in March that 573 Black women candidates were running for office. Ninety-eight vying for federal positions, including judgeships, judicial slots and the U.S. Senate, 200 seeking state seats and 249 running locally. Overall, 240 Black women were competing in blue states, while 333 have put themselves forward in red states. Of this total, 209 are incumbents seeking re-election and 364 are challengers.

“By the end of the day on Nov. 6, Donald Trump will see the results of people coming out to vote despite the voter suppression, intimidation and them forcing people off the voter rolls,” she predicted. “This is a political year we haven’t seen in a lifetime. Our power is enormous. I’ve seen it in every aspect of life … . Get ready, get ready. That’s the strength. We can turn anything we want black, red, blue, any color.”

New York congressional candidate Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez speaks in support of Kansas Democrat Brent Welder at Jack Reardon Convention Center on July 20 in Kanas City, Kan.
Progressive candidates like Georgia State Rep. Stacey Abrams, Maryland businessman and venture capitalist Ben Jealous, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, all vying for gubernatorial slots; and congressional hopefuls Beto O’Rourke, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, Anaya Pressly, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib have energized midterm politics and awakened the moribund, aimless establishment wing of the Democratic Party.

The agenda they’re running on includes universal healthcare or Medicaid for All; a $15 an hour minimum wage for fast-food, hospitality and other workers; a demand that corporations pay a more equitable share of taxes; quality education and better salaries for teachers; and a restorative criminal justice system.

Until now, several critics of the Democratic Party said, the party hasn’t managed to make a case why people should vote for them. And being against Mr. Trump does not make an agenda.

“The Democratic Party is waking up from a deep sleep and the key is the mobilization of African Americans,” Ms. Abrams told an audience at the Congressional Black Caucus in September. “This is one of the most important changes in our lifetime. People think it’s ‘Gone With the Wind’ but (Georgia’s voting population is) 53 percent White and 32 percent African American. Georgia will be a majority-minority state by 2025. Unfortunately, Democrats have been chasing former Democrats.”

“The states are incubators for change. Faith, value, service and responsibility combined with policy is the ethos that has sustained Black people throughout the entirety of politics. The Obama coalition exists—African Americans, Latinos, Asians, Whites and Native Americans. It combines need and challenge.”

Dr. Wilmer Leon said a variety of factors make predictions difficult.

“Well, this is one of the most unusual midterms in recent memory because we’re dealing with one of the most ignorant, racist, homophobic and misogynistic administration in the history of the country,” said Dr. Leon, an author, educator, and talk show host on Sputnik Radio in Washington, D.C. “Because Trump is such a transactional person, there’s no consistency in his policies or programs. So that’s one reason why this thing is so hard to call.

“It’s also hard to call because of the voter suppression tactics employed the last 4-5 years by Republicans especially cross-check and exact match. You have gutless Democrats and Republicans who aren’t outraged. I haven’t heard Obama, Pelosi, John Lewis or Hillary Clinton talk about this. I think they are still afraid of being too closely tied to African American community. That’s the only thing that makes sense here.”

Dr. Avis Jones-DeWeever agreed. It’s clear, she said, that Democrats have latched on to a losing strategy.

“It’s more important for Democrats to invest more in White folks than us. They place more value on White voters,” she said. “But they can pull together a coalition of people of color and then don’t need more Whites—you max that out and win election races.”

Dr. DeWeever, a media commentator, author and president and CEO of Incite Unlimited. LLC, castigated the Democratic Party for establishment politicians continuing to disrespect and take for granted Black voters and spending inordinate amounts of time and money trying to attract Whites and Republicans back to the party. Party leaders should be investing money and resources in Black neighborhoods year-round, supporting grassroots leaders and organizations and building capacity, all things that groups like The Collective PAC, Color of Change PAC, Higher Heights, the Black Votes Matter Fund and Woke Vote have been doing.  

“With the Democratic Party, here’s the challenge. Historically speaking, they have not invested in the Black community which is commensurate with our value—have not put money into organizing, information persuasion, voter engagement,” she explained. “At the very last minute, they plop in some money with White consultants. The White folks skim off the top and they hire Black people for a fraction of the money to do all the hard work. If they really respected us, they wouldn’t do this garbage. I’m hoping they will change.

“I call it a kinder, gentler racism. The majority of White people vote Republican and White people in general tend to vote more Republican. What Democratic leaders don’t realize is that these people aren’t coming back.”

Despite the formidable political power Blacks possess, Black voting potential is yet to be fully realized, said Ms. Brazile, who has been involved in 56 Congressional House and Senate races, served seven years as a campaign staffer and worked as a strategist and analyst in 11 campaigns. Rather than coming to political parties and politicians hat-in-hand begging for a seat at the table, she said, Blacks should be asserting their power and demanding that politicians deal with them in a manner that reflects their political clout.

“We need to tell them we’re loaning you our votes today, but we will take them back when we run,” she said. “They don’t respect you, they don’t want your body, so don’t give them your votes until they give us an agenda that matches our needs.”

Jamila Bey, a mother, journalist and analyst said she disagrees with conventional wisdom that a Blue Wave is coming to inundate Republicans.

“I’m not convinced that progressives will get what they want this wave but they’ll be close. We’ll see a Blue Trickle,” she said. “I think a lot will be disappointed. Lots of people will show up, see long lines and be turned away. Voting machines will also act up. This is another time that we’ll see that American Democracy is a joke and people will be upset.

“Taking the House is not the issue. The GOP has everybody who will to fight, filibuster, obstruct. Winning is the first step. It’s pinning the bib on for the marathon. Progressives all over this country need to realize that they’re dealing with easily disillusioned people. A whole lot of people checked out of politics when George W. Bush was selected and they might do so again if the Democrats lose.”

Ms. Bey said what we’re seeing isn’t the actual race because people aren’t revealing who they support despite what they say. And for progressives who win, deeply partisan Republicans will continue to obstruct their agendas, she said. 

“I deeply believe that this is not the actual race,” she said. “I know that people disagree. There are people in Atlanta who are excited. Stacey Abrams has a fabulous chance. So okay, Abrams wins but the state legislators are red. They’re going to be resentful. Her political life is going to be hellish.

“Power corrupts. Legislation will be blocked, they will get stonewalled and stymied at every turn, we will see people go to the other side. Their performance will be lackluster. I think this is genuinely the beginning of an 8-to-12-year cycle that’s going to either push us into political oblivion, a la 1950, or progressives will make some headway to govern in ways to advance and liberate people. We’ll see.”

Veteran independent journalist and political analyst Lauren Victoria Burke said Democrats look poised to retake the House.

“Many of the female candidates are the result of blue-collar grassroots. They’re not typical officeholders. They’re nurses, teachers, a range of professions,” she said. “Early voting is showing record turnout. Georgia had large numbers the first week. If turnout numbers are higher, it benefits Democrats. Republicans know that the way the country is moving it’s not in their favor.

“Texas is leaning red. Florida has Marco Rubio and a Republican governor. Democrats will benefit from that. Alabama (activists) increased turnout in a red state and Democrats won. The Republican has shown himself to be questionable. Doug Jones should not have won that but turnout went off the chain. It’s a matter of people already coming to polls. You don’t need new people, you just need people already there to turn out. That’s how you win.”

Drs. Jones-DeWeever, Leon and others contend that voting a candidate in is just the first step.

“People have to be vigilant and hold the individuals they elect accountable,” Dr. Leon said. “They also have to make financial contributions, and they gotta advocate at city council, school board and other meetings. We just don’t do enough of that.”