If Not Now, Then When?

It’s Time for Black Voters to Push the Democratic Party

When Black Democrats in Louisiana go to the polls to vote in the primary on April 4, we have three viable options.

We could vote for Joe Biden. Right now, he is the golden boy of the party.

We could vote for Bernie Sanders. We know, we know, moderates don’t like him. But, revolutionaries that we are, we are keen on many of his ideas. And he is holding his own in this horse race.

The third option-—we could do something truly incredible and forward-thinking for a change, something that will shock the Democratic Party—we could vote for ourselves.

We could FINALLY send a clear message that we no longer buy into this notion that we should not demand too much…too soon or that what is at stake for the country is somehow more important than what is at stake for OUR communities. 

Black voters showed up and showed out for Joe Biden on Super Tuesday. But when will we show up for ourselves?

Biden was victorious in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Alabama—because of Black voters. In Alabama and Virginia, he had the support of about 70 percent of Black voters. In Tennessee and North Carolina, he had the support of more than half of Black voters. He also outperformed Sanders with Black voters in Texas, where they make up about 20 percent of the Democratic primary electorate, roughly 60 percent of Black voters in that state voted for Biden; compared to Sanders’ 17 percent.

Black voters, we see y’all—getting your shine on. But don’t go celebrating too much. Your work is not done. Every news story that has analyzed Biden’s stunning victory has reminded us that the Democratic Party is still counting on us. Actually, it is counting us—literally, counting.

While Latino voters and young people are turning out to be formidable voting blocs for Sen. Bernie Sanders, there is no way around the fact that Black voters were at the top, the bottom, and straight up the middle of Joe Biden’s victories. And with the centrist leaders of the party coalescing their support around Biden even as they vilify fellow Dem Bernie Sanders, whose progressives platform has resonated with youthful voters and Latinos, the largest non-White group of voters makes his campaign a viable threat, Biden supporters are counting on Black voters like never before.

On Mar. 10, the nation will turn to Missouri and Mississippi with bated breath; and Black voters there will also be vital for Joe Biden, when those two states—along with seven others—hold their primaries. In Missouri, Black voters are 20 percent of the Democratic electorate. In Mississippi, Black voters made up 70 percent of the Democratic electorate. If the Super Tuesday trend continues, the outlook for Biden is favorable.

In Louisiana, where the primary will take place on April 4, Black voters are nearly 58 percent of all registered Democrats.

To be sure, Black voters in Louisiana will weigh heavily in this race. The party needs us. Hell, the country needs us; and we suspect that, as usual, Black voters will come through. We always have. They count on us. But when can we count on them?

When will it be our time to be considered, to have the issues and challenges that disproportionately impact our communities addressed with a level of attention and concern comparable to those big numbers that we produce at the polls—numbers that turn a lagging, middle-of-the-road, centrist Democrat, former vice president whose campaign was limping on a broken leg just a few weeks ago into the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination?

There is Something to Be Said for
Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Here at The New Orleans Tribune, we were no fans of Michael Bloomberg, who has now suspended his campaign and endorsed Joe Biden.  We were well aware that what he had done in New York with “stop and frisk” was racist and disastrous for Black and Latino communities. We knew that he had and continues to use his wealth to power a movement to destroy public education. And we fully believed that this corporate-driven model of so-called reform will only hurt our children, especially Black children, for generations to come. We saw Bloomberg’s reach first-hand about nine years ago when he sent sizable campaign contributions to Louisiana to fund the campaigns of Kira Orange Jones and other corporate-model education reform advocates in their bids for the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. In 2011 alone, Bloomberg poured $545,000 into Louisiana races so that the so-called reformers could take control of the state BESE. And he has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars since then.

With his wealth, his reach and the complicity of others, including some of our Black state and local leaders, this is what Bloomberg has done to Louisiana; so no, there was not a single scenario in which we wanted to see him in the White House.  No one was happier than we were when he announced that his campaign had come to an end.

But like many others, we looked side-eye when Bloomberg did something no other candidate for the Democratic nomination had done, not in this election cycle or any other in recent history—he not only directed his attention to Black folk, he spent money with the Black Press to do it. For full disclosure, he spent money with us. As members of the National Newspapers Publisher Association, we benefited from his historic buy with the organization, which represents 230 Black-owned media outlets across the nation. And while we sold the space so that he could reach our audience with his message (as we would any candidate), we still didn’t want to see him snag the Democratic nomination. The New Orleans Tribune has never been for sale.

But that simple action—spending $3.5 million (a meager sum by Bloomberg standards, but $3.5 million more than anyone else has spent) with Black newspapers across the country to spin his narrative and make his case—showed one thing: Bloomberg understood the power of speaking to Black people through the Black press. Unfortunately, there were Black people actually buying into his message.

Still, even if he were just a rich guy throwing his money around trying to buy the presidency, he recognized that he needed to throw some in the direction of the Black Press and Black people. And until any of the other candidates still in the race, with their grand stump speeches about unifying a nation and wresting control of our country from the megalomaniac currently in the White House demonstrates that kind of understanding, we will have a hard time believing they will do anything substantial to address the conditions and concerns of our community, our businesses, our children.

Yes, we’re saying it—because someone has to. Building up your war chests means nothing to us if you are going to take our votes for granted. Think about it—any joker that can’t see the benefit in spending a few thousand dollars to place an ad in Black-owned media to reach Black people with a clear and targeted message is not about to upend an entire political system to dare address Black poverty, Black unemployment, wage inequity, housing discrimination, disparities and inequities in resources for Black businesses, disparities and injustices in our criminal justice system, health disparities, the race-wealth gap or anything else that impacts our community in a considerable way that specifically targets these issues and their effect on us.

They will shake our hands and make use of every photo op. But they ain’t really walking the walk—not even taking baby steps.

Contrary to what the pundits want Black Americans to believe, OUR only concern cannot just be getting Donald Trump out of the White House. If all things were equal, we could accept that notion. But all things are not equal—nowhere near equal, and so we must not only be concerned with Trump, we must concern ourselves with replacing him with someone who will tackle our Black agenda without fear or hesitation with the same vigor and vim they muster to climb into our pulpits on a Sunday morning and ask for our votes as if God himself has anointed him and as if we have no other choice.  We clearly have choices.

So as we emerge from Super Tuesday—that most sacred day of American politics when voters in 14 states and U.S. territories traversed to the polls to vote for their party’s nominee and, in doing so, influenced the remainder of the primary election season, we are reminded again of just how vital and valuable Black people are to the Democratic Party at election time, and how easily disregarded and dispensable we are the rest of the time.

We rally, we go to the polls and we make the impossible possible. We throw our weight around, to be sure; but we never get paid what we weigh. And a big part of that is our fault. We show up en masse and swing elections, then happily accept the pats on the back as we revel in the news analyses that wax on about how essential and decisive we were to the win, but we have failed miserably at harnessing that same power to produce results for our communities, families and businesses.

We checked the calendar, and 2020 is the time to do better, y’all. We need to rock boats, demanding that our leaders either do something to make a difference or get out of the way. And we are not accepting “not now” as an answer. If not now, then when? That is the question.

Don’t Believe the Hype or the Myths

April 4 is still a few weeks away. It appears that two frontrunners for the Democratic nomination have emerged—Biden and Sanders.

Still, we are doing what we encourage all of our readers and followers to do between now and election day. Consider the issues that matter most to you, research what the candidates have said and done and vote in a way that speaks to your fundamental beliefs and reflects your desire for your life, for your children, for their children and for this nation.

Still, we must say that we are insulted that the word “socialist” has somehow morphed into a vulgar expletive within the Democratic Party parlance. We are appalled and quite frankly disheartened that Democrat Sen. Bernie Sanders is being criticized and cast by so-called fellow Democrats as some Socialist zealot that will be bad for the country.

The truth is Sander’s ideas are not so foreign nor are they too left-wing—not for the real Democratic Party or the nation. And enough of giving Sen. Sanders heat because he has applauded the progress made in education in Cuba under Fidel Castro. By the end of 1961, dubbed the “year of education”, the country’s literacy rate was 96 percent. Today, Cuba has an adult literacy rate of 99.75 percent, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). As Sanders pointed out in a recent debate, applauding the fact Cuba has done well in this area does not mean he is “trading love letters with Castro.” We get it, it perturbs some folk that despite all of America’s capitalism and democracy, not only is Cuba’s literacy rate on par with ours—it’s slightly higher. But facts are facts.

Now, its myth-busting time. America is not a purely capitalist nation. Hell, we are not even a pure democracy. If it were, Al Gore would have been the 43rd president and Hillary Clinton would be in the White House right now. Grow up.

This nation operates a socially-owned economy in a number of ways.

We all have some equity—society-wide public ownership—in the institutions and systems that make America what it is—from our public education system (beleaguered as it is as corporate reformers seek to destroy it) to our well-built and formidable military to our interstate highway system to government agencies that ensure the food we eat, the planes, trains and automobiles we use to travel and the medicine we take meet certain standards, are safe and reliable. And yes, that also includes the safety-net programs that help to ensure that everyone in this nation—especially people who make $7.25 an hour—can meet their most basic human needs if they require help. Make no mistake about it, the only reason a true Democrat can stomach the idea of a $639 billion military budget (nearly 20 percent of the entire federal budget) is because we want the $68 billion (less than 2 percent of the federal government) that is used to help feed families through the SNAP program to be there, too. And we need the $350 billion (about 10 percent of the federal budget) that helps to provide healthcare to low-income Americans because no one is too poor to get sick. Our government has even used taxpayers’ dollars to save big banks and big industry from crumbling when, by definition, state involvement in private enterprise is the antithesis of capitalism. So let’s please be honest about who we are.

America spends $639 billion on its military.

Any nation that can fund a $639 billion military but scoffs at feeding the hungry and taking care of the poor and sick is not only greedy, but it’s third-world in the worst way.

We are not talking about Marxism, communism or a classless social system. And neither is Sanders. We are talking about a nation that ought to have a heart that is at least half the size of its military–one that at least believes that if banks are too big and too important to fail, then so are people.

The federal Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) cost tax payers about $68 billion annually

The left has not moved. It just that the center has “scooched over” so ever-loving far to the right that we are having an awfully tough time noting the difference between a moderate Democrat and a staunch Republican—and that is more dangerous to the Democratic party and to our nation than a Bernie Sanders could ever be.

The left is right where it is supposed to be—where it has always been. It hasn’t moved at all. Some of y’all just need to come home.

The Issues That Matter

When we look at Sanders’ platform that calls for universal healthcare (essentially, Medicaid for all) a single-payer national health insurance program that would be free at the point of service, we do not wince because, despite the Affordable Care Act, African-Americans still have higher uninsured rates that are higher than Whites and Asian Americans even as we non-elderly African Americans have death rates that are more than 40 percent higher than our White counterparts and are more likely to have diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke at younger ages. So tell us what’s wrong with Medicaid for all again?

When we consider the debt that so many of our children—hell, so many of their parents, to be honest—have gotten into in the pursuit of higher education because we realize that it is still the clearest path out of poverty and into productive and responsible participation in this social democracy, we take notice when Sanders talks of guaranteeing college tuition to all and canceling $1.6 trillion in outstanding student debt.

Quite frankly, we get a lil’ tingly all over when he talks about investing $2.5 trillion in affordable housing. And we are down-right giddy when he promises to cap consumer interest rates at 15 percent; because, let’s face it, who has been hurt more by unfair, disparately higher interest rates on consumer loans than Black folk chasing their piece of this American dream?

If he wins the Democratic nomination and then the presidency, we cannot wait to see him advance his platform and to speak to the needs of Black America and we expect the rest of his party to support this effort.

As we have said, we are digging deep into both of the candidates and while Biden has some fair, moderate positions they are not nearly as forward-thinking and progressive, for our taste, like Sanders.

Biden opposes efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. And he plans to build on it by offering a “public option” like Medicare and a tax credit for health insurance premiums. And that’s good.

On the economy, his plan is to bolster middle-class competitiveness by investing $1.3 trillion over 10 years in infrastructure: roads, rail, aviation, schools, water, broadband and “smart cities. He would pay for this by reversing Trump’s corporate tax cuts, reducing incentives for outsourcing and ending fossil fuel subsidies.

And we are all for bolstering middle-class competitiveness as soon as we make certain our nation is a place where even the marginalized citizens have a path to becoming middle class too. Without that, none of this works.

And if Biden wins the Democratic nomination and then the presidency, we cannot wait to see him advance his platform and to speak to the needs of Black America; and we expect the rest of his party to support this effort.

Oh, and just in case you wanted to know, Bernie Sanders has earned a 93 percent rating from the ACLU for his pro-civil rights record, compared to the 60 percent rating of Joe Biden, who in 1976 opposed school busing to combat segregation.

Pushing

Regardless of who wins next Tuesday or here in Louisiana on April 4, this thing is less about Biden or Sanders. This thing ain’t even about Democrats and Republicans. It is about us.

A good friend recently reminded us (in a roundabout sort of way) that Lyndon Johnson, a Democrat, was once a vile Southern racist who, in the 1940s, vehemently opposed civil rights for Black Americans.

In fact, he once said, “This civil rights program about which you have heard so much is a farce and a sham; an effort to set up a police state in the guise of liberty. I am opposed to that program. I fought it in the Congress. It is the province of the state to run its own elections. I am opposed to the anti-lynching bill because the federal government has no business enacting a law against one kind of murder than another…If a man can tell you who you must hire, he can tell you who not to employ. I have met this head on.”

By 1963, Johnson was calling for the passage of a civil rights bill “without delay”. In fact, as president, he was essential to the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, along with Medicare.

But in his fight to get the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed, according to historians he even went so far as to threaten his friend and mentor, staunch segregationist Sen. Dick Russell of Georgia, telling Russell in a phone call, “Dick, I love you and I owe you. But…I’m going to run over you if you challenge me on this civil-rights bill.” 

Now, we agree that time is a miraculous thing—but to go from calling civil rights a “farce and sham”, to go from not seeing a reason to condemn something as ghastly and beastly as lynching to barely 20 years later calling for Congress to pass an act that guaranteed civil rights “without delay” so that he can sign it into law is downright astonishing.

We love a good fairytale-like, but a staunch racist doesn’t go from being opposed to civil rights to browbeating his mentor in order to get a civil right bill passed because of fairy dust, magic wands or because it’s the right thing to do.

Lyndon Johnson was pushed—pushed by Roy Wilkins and Dr. Martin Luther King and many other leaders, pushed by boycotts and bloodshed, pushed by unrest and uproar.

And maybe that is what we have forgotten over the last 56 years. We have forgotten that the hard-won battles didn’t come because we said “pretty please.” or because we voted or because we waited. They came because we demanded. They came, not because we pushed levers and buttons in a voting booth and then picked up our inequitable and disparate lives like a burden we were content to carry. They came because we pushed people and made clear that “no” was not an option.

It may have taken 56 years for us to remember, but we got it now. Some folk need to be pushed.

This is us…pushing ourselves. We are calling on Black voters to no longer give away our most valuable, individual source of power for a grin and a “that-a-boy”. Our voting bloc (and make no mistake, that is what we possess—a much sought-after electorate coalition) must come with a list of demands, a clear and direct agenda that speaks specifically to the challenges and needs of our communities and to creating opportunities that lift us closer to equity in America. We simply can no longer afford to allow others to succeed on our backs when it is painfully clear they do not have our best interest in mind. No more free rides. This is us…pushing.

This is us…pushing Black leaders—whether appointed or elected.  Those of you with access to decision-makers at the highest levels must carry our messages and fight for our agenda as if your very careers depend on it because from now on, they do. Our tolerance for ineffective and selfish Black leaders is also waning. And now that we are finally getting the hang of how this voting thing works—coupled with new-fangled cancel culture—well let’s just say its time to put up or shut up. This is us…pushing.

This is us…pushing…every political pundit prognosticating on this election for the benefit of the Democratic party, telling us what needs to happen to take back 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Stand down. When we need you, we will send for you. From this point on, nothing and no one is more important than we are—not this election, not any one person, not any one office or any one goal. You want Donald Trump out of the White House? How badly do you want it?

We are done with pragmatism. It’s been nearly six decades since the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law. We have tried pragmatism—being all rationale, reasonable and helpful, too, doing what’s best for the party, and here is where it has gotten us:

  • African Americans are 2.5 times as likely to be in poverty as Whites.
  • In 2017 the Black unemployment rate was 7.5 percent, up from 6.7 percent in 1968, but it is still roughly twice the White unemployment rate.
  • The typical Black family had only $2,467 in wealth in 1963. And while today, that figure is about six times larger ($17,409), wealth for White families dwarfs it
  • In 2016, the median African American family had only 10.2 percent of the wealth of the median White family ($17,409 versus $171,000).
  • The share of African Americans in prison or jail nearly tripled between 1968 (604 of every 100,000 in the total population) and 2016 (1,730 per 100,000). In 1968, about 111 of every 100,000 Whites were incarcerated. In the most recent data, the share has increased to 270 per 100,000.
  • In 1968, Black infants were about 1.9 times as likely to die as White infants. Today, the rate is 2.3 times higher for African Americans.
  • The share of Black households that owned their own home has remained nearly unchanged since 1968 (41.1 percent) and today (41.2 percent). Over the same period, homeownership for White households increased 5.2 percentage points to 71.1 percent, about 30 percentage points higher than the ownership rate for Black households.

We’re not entirely sure how pragmatic those statistics are, but they sure are raw and real. And they don’t sit well with us. They shouldn’t sit well with you. So in 2020, either you’re pushing or you’re getting pushed. This is us…pushing.

Share Button