Credit: Illustration by Doug Chayka/brennancenter.org

Last Updated on January 24, 2022 by BVN

S.E. Williams

Last week Black Americans received another of those undeserved slaps in the face by the political party we continue to show up for  at the polls–a loyalty built over time beginning with the promises of the celebrated President Franklin Roosevelt’s 1920s New Deal. Roosevelt was a Democrat.  

Then, like now, it did not take long to figure out that when it came to dealing equitably with the needs of Black people, the New Deal was not a Bad Deal for Black people, in truth, it was No Deal at all when it came to equal access to benefits offered through its programs.

Forty years in its wake (there is something about the number 40, in relation to America and Black people that is strangely eerie). So, 40 years after the New Deal there was the welcomed passage of the Civil Rights Bill and the Voting Rights Act (VRA)–thank  you Democrats—that created an opening for Black progress. But, just like the 40 acres and a mule promised newly freed slaves and then reneged on by the federal government, the same thing happened more than 40 years later to voting rights when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the core provision of the voting legislation (Section 5) in 2013, and put the onus on Congress to make it right.

Had it not been so impactful on the lives and future of Black people, the idea of handing this responsibility off to a Republican led Congress in 2013—when members of the party remained infuriated and vindictive over the election of the nation’s first Black president, Barack Obama.

From the outset, Republican congressional leaders boldly announced their intent to make him a one term president and to block every piece of legislation he proposed. After initially having failed in that mission (Obama was re -elected and he passed the historic Affordable Care Act), for the Supreme Court to then expect these same Republican party leaders (who at that point had gained control over both houses of congress) to work toward reinvigorating the VRA, was preposterous.

For this and other reasons, whether disappointed, dissatisfied, disillusioned, disheartened, or more, Black voter turnout pulled back in 2016. Debate continues over what part this played in the ultimate election of Donald Trump is unclear, what is clear, however, is when Black people don’t vote—it matters.

When Black people don’t vote—it matters (graphic source: pewresearch.org).

Beginning in 2017, the nation witnessed the rise, fall and ongoing threat of a racist leader striving to build an Aryan Nation.

This looming threat coupled with an out of control pandemic killing people of color in unprecedented numbers, and the continued indiscriminate murder of Blacks by rogue cops and vigilantes led Black voters back to the polls in 2020 where they were forced between a rock (Donald Trump) and a hard place (Joe Biden) who by comparison was served up as the great white hope despite his buddy relationships with segregationist or the lack of protection and respect he showed our Black sister Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas hearings or his avid support (along with many Congressional Blacks) for passage of the 1984 Crime Bill. For Black people it was another of those election cycles where we knew we were voting for our children’s future and as flawed as Biden is—we had no other choice because another four years of Trump would most assuredly have proved disastrous for Blacks and other underserved communities. Following Trump’s actions since his 2020 defeat it is obvious that electing Biden, though not the ideal choice, was the right choice between the two candidates.

I know it’s only been a year and I would never disregard Biden’s accomplishments to date, yet in my estimation for the president to pretend he can sway Republicans and recalcitrant Democrats when he failed so miserably at this when he was Obama’s wing man, appeared to me as a hyped-up overpromise. He did not deliver in this regard for Obama and there was no reason to believe he would do any better when he became president despite his many promises.  

What American Democracy Allows 

To date, Biden’s  agenda has not unfolded  as planned—no criminal justice reform—no immigration reform—and importantly, no voting rights legislation, the foundation on which democracy rests. But he did strike a deal for infrastructure—certainly something warranted, necessary and of course a priority for Republicans and recalcitrant Democrats but not at the top of the list for Black and Brown voters. Biden even broke a promise to the progressive caucus related to the passage of Build Back Better filled with relief for issues of importance for these constituencies to get them to move on infrastructure.  

Biden spent countless hours meeting with moderate democrats Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. How many hours did he spend with progressive legislators? How many hours did he meet with members of the Black Caucus, the Latino Caucus?

“Because I learned long ago that winning doesn’t always mean you get the prize. Sometimes you get progress, and that counts.”

Stacey Abrams

What is so utterly gross and disturbing about Biden’s pandering to Manchin specifically (Sinema has her own issues) is that Manchin is a multi-millionaire from a state where the total population is 1.79 million compared to 39.5 mil in CA for example. California’s population alone is equivalent to more than 23 West Virginia’s. There is something wrong with a democratic system where one man elected by .5% of the nation’s population can wield such power  considering Manchin was elected in 2018 with a fraction of that .5%. That year in a three person race Manchin was reelected by less than 50% of the state’s voters. His state has a poverty rate hovering around 16%, a median income of $26,354 yet only about five percent of West Virginia’s population are people of color.  

So, American democracy allows for one, marginally elected Senator to strut around like he’s “King of the Stardust Ballroom” putting the future of our kids at risk in the process. The truth of it all is appalling—but then again, this is the nature of American democracy.

When tracing my family roots, I met a woman named Cora. I don’t know much about her or where she was from other than in the 1790s, she was gifted by her owner to his son who moved her from North Carolina to settle in Tennessee. She, her children, and her children’s children labored on that plantation until freedom came. Sometimes it is humbling for me to realize I am only the third generation on this branch of my family tree to be born free.

Staying Committed to the Struggle

At times like this when Blacks are once again at risk of losing the one tool that gives us an opportunity to build a better life for ourselves  and our progeny. I, like I am sure many others, sometimes feel weary in the continuing quest for full citizenship for Black people that seems unending–afterall, Republican leader Mitch McConnell just reminded usagain  the other day that they still do not see Black people as citizens–he called it an unintentional error, I call it a Freudian slip. 

I know although we may be discouraged,  we must remain committed to this struggle in whatever way we can. I imagine what my great-great-great grandmother Cora might advise me and others about this dilemma.  I imagine she would say something like… ‘Don’t ever give up…If you have to stand in line for hours to vote—then stand. If you must show identification to vote—then find a way to get identification, show it, and vote. If you get purged from the voting rolls—Reregister and then vote. If they refuse to pass Voting Rights legislation, then vote them out of office or vote and elect more representatives to make their resistance mute.  No matter what obstacles they put in your way—make a way and overcome it.’

In the final analysis, voting is the only way forward. It is the only way to put people in place to establish the laws to protect our access to the ballot.

Cora would probably remind me that my today is far better than her yesterday and through perseverance and determination to secure and maintain the franchise, tomorrow will be better still for our great-great-great grandchildren.

We owe a debt to past generations to persevere in this struggle. We have an obligation to pay it forward.   

Of course, this is just my opinion. I’m keeping it real.

S.E. Williams

Stephanie Williams is executive editor of the IE Voice and Black Voice News. A longtime champion for civil rights and justice in all its forms, she is also an advocate for government transparency and committed to ferreting out and exposing government corruption. Stephanie has received awards for her investigative reporting and for her weekly column, Keeping it Real. Contact Stephanie with tips, comments. or concerns at myopinion@ievoice.com.