Patrick A. Howell and Sara Kellel examine 2020 presidential hopefuls, Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders. Both show that all “black” candidates are not created equal.
“We should be led by principles and morals and not by men.” —Killer Mike, (Michael Santiago Render) Run the Jewels
Presidential candidate Kamala Harris’ launch into the 2020 presidential contest from her hometown of Oakland, California, was about as historic and flawless as they come. She used personal narrative and a powerful call to action (Kamala Harris for the People) to electrify a nation mired in the toxic hopelessness of a Trump presidency. Reports say nearly 20,000 showed up to hear the junior California senator speak and she invigorated the national media, punditry, and D.C. political class with her launch into presidential politics. It was reminiscent of another junior senator’s improbable journey from Springfield, Illinois, to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in 2008. Yay, the Kool Aid stand is opened for business?
Seriously though, this time it doesn’t seem as if folks are flocking to drink that “Hope and Change” elixir with the same zeal in the very early season of presidential politics. In fact, there is a contingency and growing narrative that says President Barack Obama was hindered by his race in what he could do for the historic 98% in 2008 (94% in 2012 re-election campaign) African American constituency that was part of his broad coalition.
It was, after all, president Donald J. Trump who recently passed the historic First Step Act, criminal justice reform legislating sweeping changes to the federal prison system (African American men make up a majority of the U.S. prison population despite being a minority of the U.S. population) that will allow tens of thousands of federal inmates to be released from prison over the next 10 years. Further, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the poverty rate for African Americans and Hispanics has reached an all-time low. Trump, of course, takes the credit. As evidence, he points to an “all-time high” median income and booming homeownership rates for Hispanics and African Americans. #45’s booming bull market economy has been a boon to many, lifting the sails of many Americans, including African Americans (BTW: African American icons such as Kanye West and Jim Brown also credit Donald J. Trump).
In fact, president Barack Obama, arguably the greatest president of this young millennium (or, arguably, the most inspiring of candidates in addition to being a well-respected ex-president) has no shortage of detractors who note that African Americans fell behind by any metric whether it be economics, wealth, starting businesses, or access to opportunity as represented by broad statistical measures.
Will there be an anointing of a chosen one this time? It seems unlikely. There are two camps within the African American community (at least from our purview):
Blavity Blacks are change agents in the world and the way the world works. Blavity Blacks are Pan-Africanists and afro-futurists who believe the future is now. By and large, they are Millennials but also enjoy the support of Generation X’ers and Generaton Z’ers. While idealistic & woke, Blavity Blacks are also grounded in the reality of the 21st century. Blavity blacks are global in orientation, adept at technology, believe in economic independence and innovate creative expression. “Blavity” itself is an internet media company based in Los Angeles. Think: Oprah Winfrey.
A “Killer Mike” Democrat still feels the Bern. As in, candidate Bernie Sanders. The titular figurehead of this group is “Killer” Mike Santiago Render, an Atlanta southerner and co-founder of Run the Jewels, a hip-hop group. Michael Render is an outspoken social activist focusing on subjects including social equality, police brutality, and systemic brutality and discrimination. As a publicly viewed figure, Mike feels it is his responsibility to represent African-Americans: “I feel I have to be politically active and I have to be a credit to my race.” Killer Mike Democrats believe that anything that is not benefiting black people needs to be over with. Think: Kendrick Lamar. Think: Malcolm X.
With respect to the diaspora, there are obviously a multitude of ideas, orientations, backgrounds, ethnic heritage, priorities, and agendas for which there is no monolithic voting bloc. However, for the purposes of this piece, we have identified two blocks which have a clear disposition based upon specific characteristics. There is no monolithic “black vote.” There has been in recent history, however, a coalition or consensus vote. The 2020 presidential candidates will be lensed by a powerful American voting block (read: not white majority) that has already begun a very rigorous vetting process. Are so-called “black interests” served by the “black candidate” in 2020? What is “black?” What are black interests? Are they best served by “one of our kind?” Or, someone who has something to prove? Aren’t “black interests” really just American interests? Will “black” interests ever be met by the American political system? Have they ever? Who is the black candidate?
Here are a couple camps.
Part I: BLAVITY BLACKS
Some women, a lot of afro-futurists, afro-punks, and Pan-Africanists. Some Gen Z’ers and Millennials, a whole lot Generation X’ers, Baby Boomers, probably Oprah, Hollywood left, John Legend & Rob Reiner & those who believe in reparations.
“I believe we are a great country. Imperfect though we may be, I believe we are a great country. Part of what makes us great are our democratic institutions that protect our fundamental ideals: freedom of religion and the rule of law, protection from discrimination based on national origin, freedom of the press, and a 200-year history as a nation built by immigrants. What makes us great are the ideals that were behind those words we spoke in 1776, that said we are all to be treated as equals. And, I believe this is a moment in time unlike any other that requires us to fight for those ideals and for the values we believe in.” —Senator Kamala D. Harris
Blavity Suffragist Patrick A. Howell – Gen X’er, writer and financier, entrepreneur & fundraiser, proud Californian, Dad
I have been following Senator Kamala Harris for a while and I am a fan. In fact, I had the opportunity to meet her at a fundraiser in Laguna Beach around 2012. She is definitely a commander and has an incredible team behind her. I am also watching her evolve into a candidate for the presidency and I am very interested in this public transformation. As someone who was a proud supporter and fundraiser for candidate Obama in 2007, she is passing many of my tests. I realize no one is simply entitled to the “black vote” and neither are they simply anointed nor dismissed, but I also see this as a historic vote for a candidate who will change America and bring Her closer to Her ideals that have recently been twisted by the American nightmare of the Trump presidency. Kamala is tough and idealistic, pragmatic and receptive, an excellent candidate who earned her opportunity to be considered for the highest office in the land. While the launch of her candidacy in Oakland was nearly flawless, she has had a battery of early tests since then that she will have to overcome as well as one of the largest (and most diverse) fields of candidates in American history. Below are some of my considerations as I tend towards her candidacy.
Law and Order Candidate – California Attorney General Kamala Harris was a leading reason the banks had to pay ($243 billion) their share for participation in the Great Recession – really the only price these banks paid for plunging the U.S. and the world into the greatest financial crisis in modern history. The former San Francisco D.A. & California Attorney General also founded the Bureau of Children’s Justice and criminally prosecuted oil and gas companies for damaging the environment in California. She is a politician who is growing, expanding, and adapting before our very eyes. America needs a new kind of law and order candidate with guts (and heart) after the ultimate con-man lawless president.
Complex Record on Criminal Justice – To be sure, “law and order” candidate Kamala Harris has a complex record on criminal justice. Her argument, as in her book 2009 Smart on Crime, is reform from within the system. In 2004, she steadfastly refused to seek the death penalty against a man accused of killing a police officer. “She [was] very clear that the war on drugs [was] an abject failure,” says Tim Silard, a civil rights and income equality advocate whom Harris tapped to help run Back on Track. To be clear, candidate Kamala Harris’s role within Criminal Justice as a SF District Attorney and California Attorney General is complex and she will be and ought to be lensed by the African American community. I do think it would be interesting to know who Kamala would nominate as U.S. Attorney General after the tyranny of Jeff Sessions and the Trump Administration. She has a far from perfect record, but even Bernie Sanders voted for the 1994 tough on crime bill. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama also had interesting records on criminal reform. Both Kamala and Bernie are politicians, adept at the game of compromise for their own vested interest, the interests of their constituents, and playing the game of American politics.
Alt-right / Alt-left – Neocon. Ku Klux Klan. Steve Bannon. Jeff Sessions. White Power. That whole motley crew cabal of racists and white power apologists at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Racism and discrimination as cultural, social, and political motifs? In the 21st Century? Cuckoo! No futuristic Tom Clancy or Spike Lee movie script with this premise could have ever been greenlighted into a Hollywood film. Too volatile and risqué. Absurd. Way too unrealistic. Folks thought Shonda Rhimes “Scandal” with Kerry Washington was wild. And yet here we are, in the 21st century no less. It is foul and disgusting. The counterbalance to alt-right is alt-left. In political talk, the 2016 election is said to be a direct referendum on the first black president. I guess you could say Donald J. Trump is the poster boy for white privilege. What’s more antithetical to the embodiment of toxic white racist privileged undereducated male than an educated tough Oakland black woman who knows who she is? Tic. Toc.
Positions on the Issues – Candidate Kamala is right on the issues. Or left, depending on the issue. In fact, she takes a strong stance on federal cannabis laws, death penalty, election security, the environment, guns, immigration, and the expansion of health insurance to more Americans that are consistent with her record municipal, state, and national offices. I don’t like all of her positions, but I like that she is willing to discuss reform and innovation from within the system. She recently endorsed freshman rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s “Green New Deal,” legislation which sets a goal of getting 100 percent of U.S. electricity from renewable energy.
Tough Fighter – I know … sounds like her slogan (“Tough. Principled. Fearless.”) but it’s true. After Trump, genuine leadership, experience in government, statesmanship, and authenticity (a practiced visionary politician familiar with America and its institutions) is at a premium. It is a commodity. Senator Kamala Harris questioned former FBI Director James Comey, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh – she was tough, principled and represented the American people as a champion for the people. The campaign and American people need a top cop after this Joker president. Batman may not be real. Kamala is.
Voting for & Making History – Kamala is American history. The first African American to run for president was ancestor Shirley Anita Chisholm in 1974. Hillary Clinton’s historic candidacy in 2016 pummeled a thousand cracks in the proverbial glass ceiling. Kamala is the clear-cut inheritor of this mantle (at least to my eye). Like I said earlier, the presidency is not a birthright or award for being a woman and African American. But it would be an amazing moment for America. And, once again, changes the complexion and modality of the 21st century.
Kamala is not Obama – Kamala is Kamala. There is a not-so-subtle sensation of buyer’s remorse over President Obama with African Americans – whether right or wrong. Kamala is her own woman. However, his tenure will be conflated with hers for superficial and substantive reasons. She is a former prosecutor and lawyer. Just as Obama was a civil rights activist and constitutional lawyer. And just as Donald J. Trump is a lifelong business man. Professional experience will inform the nature and substance of presidency as an extension of persona.
Personal Story – Kamala’s story is the American story – she and her sister Maya are half-Jamaican, half-Indian women from Oakland, California, and the daughters of two UC Berkeley grad students and she would be the first non-Ivy league, HBCU (Historically Black College and University) President of the USA. She is also a tenured member of an African American sorority, the Alpha Kappa Alpha’s, along with Phylicia Rashad, Toni Morrison, and tennis phenom Althea Gibson. Candidate Kamala’s personal narrative is powerful. She is a DNA particle of what makes America truly great.
Time of the Woman – After the potency of the #TimesUp #Metoo, after the millions of women around the world marched for the Resistance, 2020 will be the time of the woman. During a time in which, arguably, the most toxic male of the 20th and 21st centuries is having his heyday, is it any wonder why freshman congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and veteran House leader Nancy Pelosi are so popular? It is time for balance in leadership. Tic. Toc. ’Bout time.
21st Century Candidate – One thing demonstrated by Trump v. Clinton is we do not need another contest of 20th century candidates. As this may sound eerily related to ageism, it is not. It is a call for a renewal of the template from which we global citizens cast our identity and take our cultural cues. The 2016 presidential contest was a double negative providing no single clear choice for which the future could vote for itself. It was a double negative contest in which voters put in a ballot against a candidate rather than for a positive choice. One candidate clearly represents/represented the ’80s and that worldview; the other the ’90s and 2000s and that worldview. Fresh blood is needed to renew the promise of America and its ideals. If not so, then a fair argument could be made that two years of policies by president Donald J. Trump on taxes, business, and criminal reform, have benefited African Americans more than any policy enacted during the eight years of the Obama administration. Why is Obama held in such high regard (outside of the composure of a gentleman statesman with zero scandals – unheard of in the modern era)? It is, in part, because what he, Michelle, and their beautiful family represent – America as set forth by Martin Luther King’s vision. Or, as 19th century Pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey said, “Progress is the attraction that moves humanity.”
Reparations Really Matter – Let’s be honest. One of the fundamental questions of slavery and racism is that of economics or the distribution of wealth in America. Or, who owns what and why. When “founding fathers” as Thomas Jefferson ($230M net worth) and George Washington ($580M net worth) are the wealthiest in American history, outside of Donald J. Trump ($3B), with substantial holdings of “slaves,” the question of doing what is “moral” or “right” is really one of ownership and a system predicated upon the systematic disenfranchisement and debasement of a brilliant resilient people. Even the word “slave” is offensive at this time in history. Those were ancestors who were husbands, wives, children, builders, architects, business people, intellectuals … survivors of American terrorism. African Americans built the Southern economy of cotton and tobacco, we built the White House (and designed D.C.), and we built Wall Street. We are the architects of the American empire. Kamala’s (along with Senator Elizabeth Warren) willingness to discuss reparations is a willingness to discuss and attack the root of racial, anxiety, toxicity, and dysfunction in America – slavery and race. Reparations is a call for 21st century leadership and a call to cure America of this malignant ailment. America must deal with the past and heal itself to reach its highest possible potential. Bernie Sanders has recently said he opposes reparations on the Breakfast Club morning radio show. As Ta-Nehisi Coates noted in The Atlantic, Bernie Sanders has taken the mantle of every single other progressive idea, his failure to consider its validity is a fundamental failure.
May the Best Campaigner Win – Kamala has charisma to spare. She is a representation of the America of the 21st century. Arguably, the most attractive, charismatic, and popular candidate has always won. Okay, I guess that’s a superficial, or banal, perhaps even venial, argument, but it’s true. It’s not a barometer, but it is a characteristic of the winner in these contests. She is Facebook and Instagram ready; Twitter savvy. Sanders, Warren, Booker … don’t hold a candle to Kamala’s shine. Think about it: Gore v. Bush? Clinton v. Bush? McCain v. Obama? Yes, Trump v. Clinton. In every instance, the hustler with charisma to spare has won. May the best campaigner win – Bronzed Kamala v. Orange Trump? Heck yeah, I’ll take those odds. Democratic Party Nominee Kamala Harris will defeat Republican nominee and candidate Donald J. Trump at the ballot box. I’m not so sure about Bernie.
Africa NOW – Ethiopian prime minister, Dr. Abiy Ahmed (hopefully a Nobel Peace Prize candidate) has called for Pan-Africanism and has made strides in his leadership, an anomaly in a continent known for its strongmen and dictators. Tribal chieftains from Ghana have traveled to the Caribbean to make amends for their participation in the Maafa or African Holocaust. Black culture worldwide has morphed into Afro-futurism, Afro-Punk, and a renewed evolved sense of Pan-Africanism. Kamala, the daughter of a Jamaican professor and East Indian medical practitioner, is aligned with these movements. Reform from within the diaspora aligns with Pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey’s 19th century dictum: “Ethiopia shall once more arise from the ashes of material ruin to the heights of temporal glory.”
Kamala is a continuity in excellence and timeless African leadership going back thousands of years to the bible and the beginning of all civilizations.
Representation Basically Matters – As a matter of fact, it could be the only thing that matters as we move into the future. Kamala is the future. Let’s not lose the forest for the trees. Big picture is having one who looks like, comes from, is one of us matters. A lot of talk will be loosed about promises and deliverables to the black community and black issue. It’s all distraction. 270 years of Democrats and Republicans has gotten us to where we are now. Whether in the form of Malcolm X, MLK, or Mary McCloud Bethune, we are what free us. The only somebody who cares about “black interests” are … the African Americans … ourselves. No one is going to save us. No one is going to give us “40 acres and a mule.” The only thing that reverses out the drudgery of 400 years of slavery and its twin offshoot of racism and discrimination, are a powerful self-determinant people. Or, as Marcus Garvey also said, “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds.”
Having a black woman occupy the highest office in the land, changes things. Or as Charlamagne tha God recently joked with Bernie Sanders on his show The Breakfast Club, 44 out of 45 presidents have been white, do we really need another one? It changes America; it changes the psychological, emotional, political, social, and cultural complexion of the world and, most importantly, it changes how we see ourselves. Again, I quote ancestor Marcus Garvey, “Up, you mighty race, accomplish what you will.”
Even if Kamala is “only Obama,” it changes the conversation of who we Americans are as a people and who we are as citizens in the universe. This candidate is the candidate of the millennium. Just look at her. As someone who has voted in at least seven presidential contests, participated in local and national politics in New York and California, I would love to see a Kamala-Sanders or Kamala-Beto ticket – that which powerfully represents the best of our progressive ideas, everything we are and can be.
Part II: KILLER MIKE DEMOCRATS
Black men, real hip-hop heads, Southerners, Generation Z’ers, a lot of college campuses, perhaps Spike Lee and Cornel West again and Millennials. Basically, the brothers, the young vote, and those who believe in the power of ideas.
“My hope is that very young people in America who have experience with the streets, hip-hop, college, higher learning will fuse all that together. I just want to be the music that can relate to both sides, that stitch together their lives or represents their experiences.”—Killer Mike, (Michael Santiago Render) Run the Jewels
“Killer Mike” Suffragist Sara Kellel – Gen Z’er, gap year student, grass roots organizer, Texan
Despite the fact that Kamala Harris has campaigned on a tax plan which aims to relieve the middle class, her Achilles’ heel is her past in Criminal Justice. For someone who claims the title of a “progressive prosecutor,” her track record says otherwise, merely posing as a champion of American values.
My question for Kamala Harris: Why did you deny a DNA test that could have freed an innocent black man? Has this world and justice system not already been hard enough on our brothers? This is in regards to Harris’ past as the California state Attorney General and the case of Kevin Cooper. Cooper, a death row inmate maintains his innocence and has accused law enforcement of planting evidence against him. Despite the fact that the only surviving victim of the attack Joshua Ryen testified that his attackers were three white men, it wasn’t until four California law school deans urged former California Governor Jerry Brown to reopen an independent investigation to fairly evaluate Cooper’s claims of innocence that further DNA testing was ordered. This isn’t the only time in her history as a prosecutor where something like this has occurred.
Kamala Harris also fought to keep George Cage, an electrician with no past criminal history, who was a accused of sexually abusing his step-daughter. Medical reports had indicated that his step-daughter, on many occasions, had been misleading and dishonest in her interactions with law enforcement. It was later discovered by the judge that the prosecutor had unlawfully withheld this information. Cage was forced to act as his own legal defense. When the court sent the case to mediation, Ms. Harris maintained and upheld the conviction on the technicality that Cage had not properly addressed this issue in the lower courts. Cage is still serving a 70-year sentence.
So, here is my take.
No (more) Black Prosecution – I mean, prosecutors. Most of us may be too young to remember candidate Bill Clinton’s Sista Souljah moment but it had something to do with reinforcing negative stereotypes of African Americans – really no different from George H.W. Bush’s Willie Horton moment in 1988. Then there is Barack Obama moralizing versus legislating for African American interest – holding Beergate and hosting a racist white cop at the White House instead of passing legislation like … Donald J. Trump’s landmark federal prison reform? Wow. Wow, wow, wow.
But let’s also just say Donald J. Trump did not have to disavow Steve Bannon and his white America like candidate Obama had to disavow his Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Proud neocon (new code for white supremacist) Steve Bannon was a member of the White House staff. Kamala’s brand as a prosecutor and top California cop (California Attorney General) is the wrong brand, wrong message at the wrong time. Bernie Sanders has been on the side of community activism his entire life.
Voting Black Interests v. Melanin – Issues of economic inequality, mass unemployment, urban decay, and access to voting rights are all on the ballot in 2020. Simply voting black won’t get it done. Vote the record. Voting identity politics is a sucker’s game.
Experience Matters – Kamala is too green as was a certain senator out of Chicago. And with the challenge to democratic institutions posed by the 45th president, we need someone who knows who he is and knows America – the America of our highest ideals and aspirations. Bernie could be the most consequential and amazing leader of our young century and the new millennium. He’s been tested and we know who he is.
Leading with Integrity – Bernie Sanders has always been on the right side of history. Power is not going to intoxicate a 77-year-old who knows who he is. Or, at least not Bernie Sanders.
Bernie would be for black people what they thought Bill Clinton would – a progressive, fair-minded ally in the White House. A Bernie Sanders presidency would credibly deal with the supposition, “What if Jimmy Carter was a two-term president?” Bernie will not be bought off by special interests and governed by corporate Wall Street donations.
An Anybody But Kamala Vote – Ms. Harris (prosecutor, district attorney, and attorney general) “fought tooth and nail to uphold wrongful convictions that (had) been secured through official misconduct that included evidence tampering, false testimony and the suppression of crucial information by prosecutors” —Lara Bazelon Kamala Harris Was Not a ‘Progressive Prosecutor’
The American Criminal Justice Reform Candidate – Bernie Sanders is the Black Lives Matter candidate. Sanders history of leading sit-ins as a civil rights activist in the 1960s and his strong voting record on social justice issues—the support of black activists like Killer Mike and Cornel West. During the 2016 Democratic primaries, Sanders, according to the exit polls in these states, received 52 percent of the votes of African-Americans under 30, compared to 47 percent for Clinton. Not to mention, his 2016 triumphs in Michigan and Wisconsin.
Grassroots Movements Are Built from the Bottom Up – After Trump, America needs chemo radiation treatment for the toxic malignancy of his presidency. Bernie Sanders’ entire life is a progressive movement to the America of ideas.
It is not a Given that Black Women Voters will Vote for a Black Woman Candidate – Black women voters are discerning voters. We underwrote the Civil Rights Movement. We are the first black to run for president. We are Stacey Abrams, Rosa Parks, and Mary McLeod Bethune. We are the life partner of Barack Obama. We made the House of Representatives Democratic in 2018 and returned Nancy Pelosi to power. We are kingmakers. We are power. We don’t play when it comes to our vote.
Kamala Harris also often turned a blind eye to allegations of abuse and misconduct among prosecutors and police officers. She also failed to endorse the use of body cameras to hold law enforcement accountable for said misconduct. Additionally, she has done a poor job of ensuring impartial investigations took place by opposing legislation that would require her office to independently look into fatal police shootings. The late Jeff Adachi, a San Francisco public defender, urged her twice to open a civil rights investigation into the San Francisco police department. This was following a scandal within the police department where sworn-in officers were exposed for sending a string of racist and homophobic text messages, and again after a series of high-profile deaths by police of young people of color. Twice, Harris neglected to respond to Adachi’s requests.
This directly contradicts her voiced commitment to fighting injustice and protecting exploited youth. Oh, the hypocrisy. It seems there is a trend of Harris being on the wrong side of history, usually at the expense of low-income people of color. And it doesn’t end there…
Harris Has Also Fought to Uphold the Prison Industrial Complex – In 2014, when a federal court ordered the California prison system to grant early release to prisoners in compliance with the population cap imposed by the U.S. Supreme Court, Kamala Harris made the case that their release would result in adversely affecting the prison labor programs. Amongst these programs is the one that pays inmates less than $2 a day to fight California’s wildfires. It would also drain the labor force of low-level, nonviolent offenders who worked for pennies on the dollar to pick up trash and clean city parks.
In her time as attorney general of California, Harris did very little to improve the criminal justice system. Ms. Harris was also in favor of the use of lengthy solitary confinement, which has been proven to cause severe long-term psychological harm to prisoners. It doesn’t end there! Kamala Harris also fought to prevent Michelle-Lael Norsworthy, a trans woman, from undergoing reassignment surgery during her time in California’s prison system.
Harris also championed a bill that threatened to prosecute and even arrest the parents of truant students. It should be noted that the parents of these students oftentimes didn’t have the resources to get them to school. This bill would almost exclusively target low-income people of color. Should they be criminalized for being low-income? Not to mention, California’s public school system is chronically underfunded. A punitive system and approach to issues of poverty only perpetuates the problem. It is likely that enforcing criminal punishment would only fuel the already challenging circumstances of these communities. When an already truant student now has to deal with the absence of their parents because of run-ins with the law, they then have a greater risk of homelessness. Which would quite literally put them out on the streets and extend the school-to-prison pipeline.
“Th[is] year when all of the white political crooks will be right back in your and my community with their false promises, building up our hopes for a letdown, with their trickery and their treachery, with their false promises which they don’t intend to keep. As they nourish these dissatisfactions, it can only lead to one thing, an explosion; and now we have the type of black man on the scene in America today …” Because what’s worse for black people than the aforementioned white crooks that have for so long plagued the scope of American politics is a crook that looks like us.
Listen to (a younger) independent Vermont senator Bernie Sanders in 1991 (during President Bill Clinton’s injection to the prison industrial complex), long before Michelle Alexander’s 2010 opus “The New Jim Crow” was a cultural sentiment:
“Let us be honest: This is not a crime prevention bill. This is a punishment bill, a retribution bill, a vengeance bill.
“All over the industrialized world now, countries are saying, “Let us put an end to state murder, let us stop capital punishment.” But here what we’re talking about is more and more capital punishment.
“What we’re discussing now is an issue where some of our friends are saying we’re not getting tough enough on the criminals. But, my friends, we have the highest percentage of people in America in jail per capita of any industrialized nation on Earth. We’ve beaten South Africa. We’ve beaten the Soviet Union. What do we have to do, put half the country behind bars?
“Mr. Speaker, instead of talking about punishment and vengeance, let us have the courage to talk about the real issue: How do we get to the root causes of crime? How do we stop crime, which is in fact a very, very serious problem in this country?”
Barack Obama, #44 was America’s first black president. He was also a powerful symbol of what 21st century global leadership could look like. And while he was not perfect, he was our best beginning in America’s 21st century and our third century as a young country. I mean his presidency is bracketed by George W. Bush (#43) and Donald J. Trump (#45) – please don’t misunderestimate, this ain’t strategery: Barack Hussein Obama will forever be our president. However, as we look past the sheer sexy veneer of melanin to elect our next president, and we look towards a future of unlimited possibility, we should take our time making a decision that can impact the next 100 years; that will impact the next 100 years in our really young promising republic.
Malcolm X understood the gravity and urgency of our responsibility in the young republic: “A ballot is like a bullet. You don’t throw your ballots until you see a target, and if that target is not within your reach, keep your ballot in your pocket.”
Yes, even 20 percent African-American support for Trump could all but dismantle Democratic Party presidential hopes for 2020. Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election with 88 percent of the black vote. That was about a six-point fall off from Barack Obama’s share of the black vote in 2012. Clinton won the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes but lost the electoral college to presidential candidate Donald J. Trump who turned out the Midwest and Southern disenfranchised vote. 4.4 million 2012 Obama voters did not come out in 2016 – nearly 1/3rd of them black.
However, we can’t just vote for a president because of his/her sex or color (and maybe that’s the point – we can, right?). That’s like middle class disenfranchised Midwest and Southern middle class voters stuffing the ballot box for Donald J. Trump. Just. Plain. Stupid. But we can judge our candidates by the content of their character and that’s the point of the 2020 presidential election. We can also have a rigorous public debate amongst ourselves, on social media and on media circuits that will lense the candidates and follow in the best traditions of democracy and a free press. Voting for a woman, voting for an African American is secondary to voting for the best possible candidate and 2020-2024 President. We can and ought to vote, contribute, volunteer, go door to door, make calls, blog, organize, bundle for our vested interest. Obviously we got it wrong in 2016 and, no matter who, history will be made in 2020. And that is precisely why we will get it right this time.
We urge you all to question the sincerity of the candidates making promises to your communities and to diligently question if their intentions are rooted in self-interest or your genuine well-being.
“Realize what the ballot is for; what we’re supposed to get when we cast a ballot; and that if we don’t cast a ballot, it’s going to end up in a situation where we’re going to have to cast a bullet. It’s either a ballot or a bullet.” – Malcolm X