As we enter the 2016 political campaign season with numerous candidates for president of the United States in the Republican and Democratic parties, it appears once again that the political and economic interests of Black America are not being adequately addressed by either of the major political parties. It is as if the Black American vote is being taken for granted.
The Black vote is important first to the Black community and secondly to American democracy. The right to vote and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 did not come about without a struggle. Many brothers and sisters went to jail and paid a heavy painful price to acquire the right to vote. Some even died in the struggle to advance Black political and civic participation.
In the Civil Rights Movement, voting rights were deemed precious and a sacred moral responsibility to everyone of voting age. Today, there is need for the Black community to reassert the value and strategic leverage of the Black vote. It is one thing for the status quo to ignore the political interests of the Black community, but it is another when so many of us are missing in action on Election Day.
According to the United States Elections Project, Black voter turnout has been significantly increasing steadily from 48.1% in 1996 to 52.9% in 2000 to 61.4% in 2004 and peeking at 69% in 2008 when Sen. Barack H. Obama was elected president. In 2016, we should have no less than a 90% Black turnout. If that happens, the Black vote, more than any other single voting group in the U.S., will determine the outcome of the elections.
We should recall that in the 2012 elections, for the first time in history, Black voter turnout was higher than White voter turnout—66.6% to 64.1%. Why do all these voting statistics matter? The short answer is because if we can continue to increase our voter turnout we will be better positioned to advance the interests of the Black community.
A few weeks ago, the Pew Research Center reported that for the first time in history, there are at least 364 counties, independent cities and other county-level equivalents in the U.S. that did not have a White majority population: “the most in modern history, and more than twice the level in 1980.” Ninety-two of the 364 counties are predominantly Black. This is leading to the election of more Blacks as county sheriffs, county chief executives, and other high public offices at the county and regional levels.
Some would say it is poetic justice, but it is a rapidly changing racial demographics reality in terms of population density increases and Black elected officials are on the rise particularly in the 11 states that once made up the old Confederacy: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. That’s not surprising when you consider that 55% of all African Americans reside in the South, up from 53.6% in 2000.
It’s not surprising that some of the most intense efforts to suppress the Black vote is taking place in the South.
Yes, Black Lives Matter! We must do whatever is necessary to improve the quality of life for our families and communities. Do not fall into the cynical attempts to persuade us that our votes do not count. Our votes do count and do make a big difference for the betterment of Black America. Yes, Black Votes Matter!
(Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. is the president/CEO of the National Newspaper Pub-lishers Association (NNPA) and can be reached for national advertisement sales and partnership proposals at:<email@example.com>; and for lectures and other professional consultations at: <drbenjaminfchavisjr.wix.com/drbfc>.)