U.S. Presidential Candidates Must Earn the Black Vote, Not Expect It

by Leah C.K. Lewis

There has been a great deal of commentary about the #BlackLivesMatter disruption in Seattle during the first weekend in July. Two young activists connected to Seattle’s BLM chapter stormed the stage and demanded a 4.5-minute moment of silence to honor the anniversary of Michael Brown’s killing at an event where Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, an Independent self-proclaimed socialist senator from Vermont, planned to discuss social security and Medicare.

Rampant have been criticisms of the activists’ actions, the crowd, Bernie Sanders himself, his team, and—if my Facebook feed is to be believed—his white liberal supporters who are viewed as having spewed racist remarks toward the Sister-activists at the event and online. But what the event signifies for many is that those who hope to have a serious run for U.S. President in 2016 must recognize they have to earn Black women’s votes. Too often, the specific needs and concerns of people of color are overlooked; alternatively, broad, general promises are made during election years and then not kept when the candidate is installed. Many of us, however, are intent on not letting this happen.

In the era of #BlackLivesMatter, it is clear that a critical mass of African Americans has beautifully and boldly rejected the socially violent status quo that has so far perpetuated a nullification or exploitation of our vote. The operative phrase here is “critical mass.” Whatever that number is now, roughly fifteen months away from the November 2016 election, it must grow to an overwhelming proportion in order to seize upon this season of awakening, revolt, and evolution within the African-American populous.

We, the African-American electorate, still have a very long way to go before we can exercise the type of power we actually have. The fact that Hillary Clinton remains—at least according to media rhetoric—the presumptive Democratic nominee is the indicator of how far we are from truly moving the needle. This is presumptive for two reasons: 1) her name recognition due to decades as a political personality and 2) her long-standing marriage to former President Bill Clinton.

Please note that I did not state a basis that holds any type of positive significance in the lives of African Americans—not one! If the truth is told, Bill Clinton’s policies on crime did grave, undue harm to African Americans. In light of this, what really has Hillary Clinton done to benefit our people? Not what will she do, but what has she done? This is the question we must ask of every candidate and every party.

Here is the essential question that we must ask: What has a particular candidate done for us lately…if ever? For people who are systemically oppressed and disenfranchised, to reduce politics to a popularity contest, as it often is, is to squander opportunity and the power of our vote. We cannot concede by merely throwing support behind the candidate we “think” will win. Be not fooled—this is what political operatives often do. Far too often folks want to side with the perceived front-runner in their Party regardless of whether that candidate is actually good for the people.

African-American political operatives are no different, except they must expend more moral and social capital than their white counterparts because they come from a people who historically have not received long-term, systemic benefits that translate into economic and social parity. My point is this: Do not be fooled simply because a candidate has hired some black folk. So what? That is nice, but it is not substantive.

Candidates should state clearly what policies they have proposed and instituted that have had a positive impact on the lived reality of people of color. If there are none, they can take a seat.

Our sister and brother protesters in the Movement for Black Lives are making it patently clear that business as usual just won’t do. Africans in America (aka Black people) owe these women and men a debt of gratitude. They are taking the heat, ultimately, for the holistic benefit of their people. Consequently, Black people need to wake up, read up, stand up, and vet all candidates critically. Acts of civil disobedience and the ways in which these demonstrators are galvanizing candidatesor not—into action for our future advancement across the American landscape show that disruption has an impact.

Now is the time for people of color – and women of color – to seize the day politically. Carpe diem should not simply be a motto; it must be our mission. Candidates need to recognize the political power of people of color – and women of color – and what issues we want to see, but we must make this so. Candidates must earn our vote by actually demonstrating—that is acting—in our best interest while campaigning and while in office. Phase II calls for holding candidates we help vote into office accountable. Mere campaign rhetoric will not fly in the age of #BlackLivesMatter.

Photo: Shutterstock

Leah C.K. Lewis, J.D., M.Div., D.Min. (ABD) is, among other good and wonderful things, a graduate of Howard University School of Law where she was trained to be a social engineer for righteous causes. A frequent contributor to ForHarriet.com she is a councilwoman and literary activist. Follow her on Twitter @HumanStriving, SoundCloud.com/Reverend-Leah-CK-Lewis, and http:www.facebook.com/The.Reverend.Leah.CK.Lewis. Check out her personal blog at http://humanstriving.blogspot.com.

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