“Socialism” Be Damned: A Progressive Platform Is Needed for the DNC to Get the Support it Needs from Black Americans, Other Marginalized Communities

Business People Meeting Discussion Agreement Negotiation Concept

Since Sen. Bernie Sanders announced the suspension of his campaign, we have heard incessantly that it is time for his supporters to suck it up and get behind the presumptive Democratic nominee former vice president Joe Biden.

The party line has been repeated so much that we are loath to regurgitate it here, but will, for sake of continuity and clarity.

It goes a little something like this: We—moderates and progressives—must come together to defeat Donald Trump. Let’s put aside our differences for now and focus on the White House, and then we can discuss . . .  blah, blah, blah, yada, yada, yada, so on and so forth.

To be sure, that’s the part of the conversation when moderates start sounding like Charlie Brown’s teacher to us. Because what the Democratic establishment really means when it says this is that the left-leaning progressive wing of the party should abandon all hope for a better, more equitable America to support a lackluster moderate platform that has hardly served the interests of Black, Brown, poor and other marginalized communities over the last 50 years.

We’ve said it before, and we will say it over and again until we have lost our voices: DEFEATING DONALD TRUMP IS NOT AND CANNOT BE OUR ONLY CONCERN!

As important as it may be, we cannot and will not come to the table just to defeat Trump. And if the Democrats don’t defeat Trump, Black folk will NOT take the blame. So if things don’t go the way of the DNC on Election Day, don’t come at us on November 4 whining about Black voter turnout costing the party the White House. You are foolish to keep expecting Black folk to show up for you, when you either cannot or will not do the same for us. And we would be even more foolish not to finally take a stand.

And here are the reasons why: Black Americans are comprising 60 and 70 percent of the coronavirus-related deaths in cities and states where we only make up 30 percent or so of the population. Black babies die at a disproportionately higher rate than White babies in America. Black people live in poverty and are unemployed and underemployed at disproportionately higher rates. We make less money and have less wealth. Our rate of home ownership has remained practically unchanged for more than 50 years. So rest assured, before we accept any invitation from moderate Democrats to “come to the table,” someone needs to switch out the placemats.

The Democrats could have our support in November. The question is, how bad do they want it? This isn’t about Trump or Sanders or Biden. This isn’t about which Democratic woman Biden will pick as his running mate. This is about US—the American people, especially those of us who have historically been left out and pushed to the sidelines.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an disastrous and disparate impact on Black America, exposing the impact of institutional and structural racism on our communities. If the past month has shown us anything, it has shown us that we need to be concerned with living wages for all, quality healthcare for all, strong safety net programs for the most vulnerable among us to ensure housing and food security, climate change and environmental pollution, guaranteed sick time, family leave and other rights for American workers, erasing racial disparities in wealth and health. And that’s just for starters.

That is why Sen. Sanders’ message and platform resonated with us so. And now we need it to resonate with the presumptive nominee and the entire Democratic establishment, especially those who are indistinguishable from the Republicans across the aisle. The Democrats should be reaching out to us—not the other way around.

Some of our staff members have gotten into heated arguments with friends and acquaintances who are among the party centrists for daring to say that come November 3 we are seriously considering skipping over the presidential election and voting down ballot because we just can’t see any point in voting for the lesser of two evils.

This is no idol threat. Some among us are just that discouraged and disheartened. We have talked to others who feel the way we do. We are not alone.

It doesn’t make us feel good or proud to say that we might sit this one out. We don’t say it to make ourselves feel powerful. We say it because we have felt powerless—because it seems that no matter what we do, no matter how much we support the party’s leaders, no matter how long we stand in line to vote for the yellow dog—we get dogged out. No, we don’t want to sit out; but we are now so disheartened and disenfranchised that the prospect of doing so is not that far of a stretch.

This thing is serious, and party leaders and the presumptive nominee need to know that, unless and until, “come together” actually means coming together on a platform that defeats poverty, that defeats racial disparities across social determinants, one that defeats injustice, then we have little to no interest in just defeating Trump. Because that would just be defeating the purpose

Signs of Life

We will admit we were buoyed when we saw Biden on CNN Thursday (April 16) night. He was sort of saying some of the things we have been waiting to hear party moderates like him say.

Scott Owens, a Wisconsin-based entrepreneur and game developer, asked Biden whether he would consider responding to the coronavirus with “New Deal-type” proposals like universal health care or guaranteeing a basic income for all Americans.

On health care, Biden said:

“I thought that universal health care can be accomplished by providing a public option for Obamacare, significantly increasing the subsidies for Obamacare. It would cost a lot of money. It would cost about $750 billion, but it would provide universal care for everyone and everyone with pre-existing conditions.”

On the economy, he said:

“We have to look at it totally differently than we have before, and I think the way to get through this is we have to deal with stimulating the economy, but then we have to deal with recovery. And the way you deal with recovery is you think much bigger than we have before. It’s like the New Deal — think of every great change that’s taken place, that’s come out of a crisis. We worried about the elderly, we ended up with social security. We worried about labor, we ended up with more labor unions. We worried about a whole range of things, and what we did was we expanded opportunity. And I think we have an opportunity now to significantly change the mindset of the American people, things they weren’t ready to do, you know, even two, three years ago.”

And to that, we say:

Hold up, Mr. Biden, does that mean we are ready to worry about the poor, the marginalized, folks making minimum wage, living check to check, students, women, the elderly, Black Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and the middle-class that carries the economy?  Does that mean we can talk about a healthcare for all, capping consumer interest rates, canceling student debt, investing in affordable housing, committing to an agenda that specifically addresses the challenges faced by African-American communities? So we can talk about all of this stuff, without moderate Democrats asking in Republican-like fashion, “where will the money come from”? This nation has the money. If it’s not time to start taking just a little more from the rich and giving it to everyone else, it is at least time we stop taking from poor and middle-class Americans and giving it to the rich. Mr. Biden and party stalwarts, does that mean we are ready to move this donkey? Well then, let’s go!

Look, much of what he said on CNN was hopeful, but still relatively vague, for our taste. If the party moderates want to bring us to the table, this new way of thinking must be fleshed out. The Democratic Party, which has long enjoyed the unwavering support of the Black community has a lot of work to do. It must adopt significant elements of a progressive platform and then move with resolve to make as much of it come to fruition as possible.  It must go beyond the interests of the already rich and powerful and serve the people.

And if the party is ready to do that, then so are we.

We are waiting.

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