After last week’s column on how the major presidential candidates snubbed organizers of this year’s National Black Political Convention in Gary, Ind., I received quite a few emails asking: What can we do about it? For anyone who may have missed the column, I noted that in an ultimate show of disrespect, each major presidential candidate declined to appear before the National Black Political Convention in Gary, despite it being co-sponsored by the National Policy Alliance, a federation that includes 10 major Black organizations: Blacks in Government (BIG), the Congressional Black Caucus, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, the Judicial Council of the National Bar Association, the National Association of Black County Officials, the National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials, the National Black Council of School Board Members, the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, the National Organization of Black County Officials and the World Conference of Mayors.
BIG represents 3 million Black government employees and the CBC says its members represent approximately 43 million people. I pointed out that most Republicans wouldn’t dare insult conservatives by failing to appear before the annual Conservative Political Action Conference and that neither Democrats nor Republicans would decline to show up for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Yet, they don’t think twice before skipping a major gathering of African-Americans.
And we continue to take it. First, let’s stipulate that standing on the sidelines is not the answer, regardless of how disappointed we may be at the behavior of Democrats and Republicans. Not voting is a vote – a vote against anything approaching a progressive agenda. With the direction of the U.S. Supreme Court hanging in the balance, that alone should motivate us to turn out this fall in record numbers.
Second, it’s irresponsible to suggest that there is no difference between the behavior and voting records of Democrats and Republicans. I certainly can identify with the frustration of dealing with liberal condescension, but that shouldn’t blind us to the outright hostility of Republican leaders. Picking the lesser of two evils still leaves us with evil, but not nearly as much evil were Republican polices adopted.
Exhibit A is the GOP record in Congress. When the NAACP graded members of Congress on issues important to African-Americans, every Republican in the House and Senate received an “F.” Not a D-minus. Not even a D-plus. Voting for them would be voting against our own self-interests. It hasn’t always been this way. Blacks voted Republican from the Reconstruction Era immediately after the Civil War until 1936 when Franklin D. Roosevelt received 71 percent of the African-American vote in the most lopsided electoral victory in history. After Harry S. Truman desegregated the military and the federal workforce, he received 77 percent of the Black vote in 1948. Even as late as 1960, Richard Nixon got 32 percent of the Black vote against John F. Kennedy.
But the Republican Party grew increasingly anti-Black and no Republican president has received more than 15 percent of the Black vote since Lyndon B. Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In 2012, Mitt Romney received 6 per cent of the African-American vote, according to Roper, and Donald J. Trump appears on track to receive less than that.
More than a half-century after passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Blacks are still underrepresented in public office. As a Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies report found, “Based on the most recent data, African-Americans are 12.5 percent of the citizen voting age population, but they make up a smaller share of the U.S. House (10 percent ), state legislatures (8.5 percent ), city councils (5.7 percent ), and the U.S. Senate (2 percent ).”
And some of that failure rests squarely on our shoulders. As the report noted, “ … In 2014, when there was great unrest over a police officer’s killing of Michael Brown, African-Americans made up 67 percent of residents of Ferguson, Missouri. In 2012, a solid 100 percent of Ferguson precincts went for President Obama, but during Ferguson’s municipal off-cycle elections voters selected Ferguson’s Republican mayor and six city council members, all of whom except one were white.”
But the problem is larger than that. Essentially, we provide the margin of victory for Democrats year after year and often get little or nothing in return. So back to the original question: What can we do about it? Since my days as a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in the 1970s, I have advocated a simple and yet powerful step: Pick one local office, say comptroller or city treasurer, and vote Republican and Democrat in alternate elections. Because Blacks vote overwhelmingly in favor of Democrats, I would vote first for the Republican candidate. It wouldn’t be long before both Democrats and Republicans fall over themselves courting Black voters. And if that fails to capture their attention, then move to a second city office or a statewide contest.
If this happens at the local level, national party leaders would take note and do everything without their power to avoid a shift of loyalty at the national level. Until we show that we will make politicians pay on Election Day, we will continue to get disrespected by both major parties.
George E. Curry is President and CEO of George Curry Media, LLC. He is the former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA). He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his website, georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at twitter.com/currygeorge, George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook, and Periscope. See previous columns at www.georgecurry.com/columns.