BET and CBS News recently conducted a mini-poll with African-Americans to better understand their concerns heading into election season.
What was discovered is that in 2016, the Black voter turnout rate declined sharply, dropping below that of whites. It had been trending up since 1996. According to the poll, typical civic engagement approaches tend to skew towards Black women, given that they are the backbone of the Black political electorate, but perhaps it’s time to include more Black men in the discussion.
BET announced the #ReclaimYourVote initiative at the META:2020 Conference in Los Angeles on Thursday, February 20. The initiative is in partnership with the National Urban League and several other national organizations that are all committed to harnessing Black collective power and increasing Black participation in the 2020 Census and 2020 Election.
“So many of us have been murdered, disenfranchised and essentially emasculated by the agenda of the government, by both parties.” said T.I. who appears in a video promoting #ReclaimYourVote.
The Grammy Award winning rapper has been a long-time advocate fighting the unconstitutional social policies that have impacted Black communities like stop and frisk.
“If you don’t appeal to us, you ain’t gonna win,” T.I. warned. “We want change, but what are we willing to risk to get it? You have to decide for yourself when it’s time to take that stand.”
Former Mayor of Tallahassee, Florida Andrew Gillum spoke candidly about how his own family was impacted by the criminal justice system. His four older brothers have criminal backgrounds and one spent time in prison for trafficking drugs across state lines between Georgia and Florida.
“I can't divorce myself from the narrative that a lot of people make very bad choices that turn out to be bad choices to justify the end, which is food on the table,” explained Gillum.
Gillum became the first of his siblings to graduate from high school and the first to graduate from college.
Despite his pe4rsonal connection to the impact of criminal justice reform, Gillum cautioned against treating Black voters as a monolith. “We're complex, just like every other demographic is complex.”
He added, “When you look at all polling, when you look at the matrix of priority issues, economic issues [are] number one, and healthcare is at number two. In fact, criminal justice reform is a little bit down the list.”
Gillum, who came within 30,000 votes of winning the 2018 governor’s race in Florida, guarded against tactics to suffocate the Black vote.
“Voter suppression and voter disenfranchisement will likely play a very central figure in what happens in the presidential election. Republicans are already setting the stage for it. The president is also already setting the stage for it,” he said.
In a question from the audience, Quentin James, founder of The Collective PAC, raised the issue of the impact of billionaire infusions into the election process, pointing out that proper funding could be a significant linchpin in turning out the Black male vote in key cities.
T.I, who was also in attendance, disagreed, stating that money alone isn’t the magic key to galvanize Black male voters, “It takes someone who speaks to the needs of the people. The influence will overcome the money, in my opinion.”
The 39-year-old rapper believes Sen. Bernie Sanders is the solution saying, “I believe Bernie Sanders’ base is passionate enough and that he’s been honest enough that it's hard to call ‘fire’ on many of his actions the way it is with other candidates. He is the complete antithesis to what his opposition is.”
BET.com also spoke with Glynda Carr, president and CEO of Higher Heights. While the organization is dedicated to building the political power and leadership of Black women from the voting booth to elected office, Carr acknowledged the organization’s efforts to galvanize Black families as a whole.
“Black women, in this election cycle, are going to demand a return on our voting investment in terms of policies that directly affect Black women, our families and communities, and frankly claim our seats at decision-making tables,” Carr said.
“Although we live in some of the most politically toxic, racially divisive times, Black women are going to continue to dig in and be pragmatic voters because they know they are moving the country to higher heights when not only do they prepare themselves to vote, but engage and bring their house, their block, their church and their sorority.”
“More than ever, not only are Black women are going to make sure their network is voting, they’re also going to have a more laser-focused questioning around the issues.”