Iowa, which has a 3.4% Black population has just held its presidential caucus. New Hampshire, which is less than two percent Black, will hold its primary Feb. 8. From there, the primary battles move to states with larger Black populations—first in South Carolina where over 27.8% of its population is Black. Then it’s on to Super Tuesday with several southern states with large Black populations that are key for presidential candidates to win their party nominations including Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
The additional reality is that in less than one year the presidency of Barack Obama, the first African American president, comes to an end. We were reminded of this reality on January 12, when President Obama delivered his final State of the Union message.
I watched the president with bittersweet remembrance of his historic and impactful two-term presidency. The president stressed the need for reforms in our democracy and emphasized the importance of people, not corporations electing their representatives. He also called for bipartisan unity when it comes to the electoral process.
As the leader of a non-partisan Black civic engagement organization (NCBCP), that will be celebrating the 40th anniversary of its founding in 2016, it was very moving to hear President Obama deliver a message of hope, optimism and achievement. He also declared he is going full speed with his 4th quarter agenda for the American people that includes continuing to fight for voting rights reform.
During the speech, I recalled the images of millions of Black Americans standing in long lines for hours and many voting for the first time for President Obama in 2008 and 2012. Still, even with the historic election of President Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States and the many gains made, there is much work to be done that the next president will be responsible for in 2017 and beyond.
African Americans and other people of color dominate statistics of the undereducated, unemployed and poor—and millions do not have access to affordable health care in many states with large minority populations, especially in the South where many governors have blocked fully implementing the Affordable Care Act for partisan gain.
Further, the Black Lives Matter Movement is a reminder that there is much social justice work to be done—where we dominate the statistics on those likely to be victims of police violence or injustice. Thanks to partisan gridlock nationally and in many state legislatures, middle class wages are stagnant and the Labor Movement (a traditional gateway to middle class for working families) is under attack like never before in states across the country. Also thanks to the U. S. Supreme Court, our voting rights are not fully protected through the Voting Rights Act.
As we all know it’s not just any old ordinary election year. There’s a lot in the mix. The seeds of discourse sowed by some are finding their way into the mainstream. Right now 31 states have passed some form of restriction to voter access. So, we have our work cut out for us to ensure the Black vote not only turns out in record numbers in 2016, but we also must unite to protect our vote. That means we have to work even harder.
There is much at stake. In 2016, voters will elect the 45th president, 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, 34 U.S. Senators and 12 state governors. Further, history has proven that all politics is local and that local elections matter.
In 2016, 41 of the 100 largest cities are holding municipal elections including mayor and/or city council. Several of those cities holding local elections have large Black populations including Baltimore, Md., Baton Rouge, La., Norfolk, Va., and Washington, D.C.
It is time for us to use our skills. Those in leadership positions have to reach people on the grassroots level. It’s great to reach people who are always taking part in the process but we have to figure out how to go deep—that means the beauty shop and the barber shop and the ushers and the cashier at the drug store and the waitress at the diner.
Each one, reach one. I’m talking about educating and reinforcing to Black people of every stripe about the power and importance of their vote. Lest we forget: in 2012, Black voters surpassed the rate of White voters for the first time in history. And Black women, we are the ‘secret sauce’ leading the way for the Black vote—and young Black women led the way in 2012.
To assist voters, the NCBCP Black Women’s Roundtable released our non-partisan 2016 Election Voter Guide. The BWR Voter Guide provides a number of tools that voters can use that includes how to find your precinct, how to become a delegate and other resources. Further the National Coalition has joined with more than 80 organizations to form the National Black Voter Alliance.
History has taught us that all elections matter and the Black vote has made the critical difference to improving the lives of generations.
Now is the time to unite and come together to leverage the power and influence of the Black vote in 2016 and beyond.
Now is the time for action.
(Melanie L. Campbell is the president/CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation [NCBCP], a non-profit organization that promotes greater social and economic justice to enhance the quality of African American life. NCBCP strives to create an enlightened community by engaging people in all aspects of public life through service/volunteerism, advocacy, leadership development and voting.)