Did Democrats Do Enough to Get Out the Black Vote?

While much has been made about the suburban shift toward Democrats over the last half-decade, the reality is that Democrats cannot win elections without massive turnout in Black communities. Knowing this, Democratic candidates tend to spend October and then early November visiting Black churches and anonymously fretting to political reporters about whether it’ll be enough to win.

This year’s unprecedented early voting turnout has left us with reasons for both optimism and concern. There are indications of a big turnout of new Black voters in Georgia, despite the egregious voter suppression in the state, while there is a lot of energy in both Pennsylvania and North Carolina, as well. On the other hand, numbers look a little bit dicey in Florida thus far.

Black voters requested fewer absentee ballots and tend to vote in person (46% say they plan on voting in person in Florida), so we shouldn’t read too far into any early numbers, but given the stakes, it’s impossible not to obsess over every little data point. Thankfully, there are a number of activist groups, non-profits, and grassroots organizations out in communities, doing the hard work of getting out the vote in the face of Republican voter suppression (and, as we saw yesterday, racist police violence). A lot of money is also part of the equation.

Yesterday, I caught up with Kevin Harris, the Chief Campaigns Officer at the venerable progressive institution People for The American Way. He’s helping spearhead the group’s Defend the Black Vote campaign, which is trying to overcome voter suppression and help set record turnout for Black voters. An edited version of our conversation is below.

Tell me about the Defend the Black vote campaign.

Our Defend the Black Vote campaign is a nonpartisan effort inspired by the fact that we know that African American men are a demographic that is skeptical in many ways about our institutions and skeptical about the importance of voting and whether or not it really makes a difference. We see that as a direct threat to democracy. Our democracy is stronger when more people participate in the process. And our democracy is stronger when we have a system that doesn’t work against people voting, but actually urges people to vote.

The focus is on this community, to make sure that they understand what the stakes are, that their vote does matter, and that there are ways in which to overcome voter suppression. The fact that there is voter suppression is not ever something that we should ever allow to become normalized in our society.

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Finishing the Job: How Democrats Are Running GOTV In The Age of COVID

We now have just over two weeks until Election Day, but given the unprecedented number of absentee ballots and early votes cast, the reality is that every day is election day. Already, over 8 million votes have been registered, and with more states opening up early voting in the next few days, that number will soon jump even higher.

With that in mind, the traditional weekend-before-the-election GOTV just won’t cut it this year. We need to be taking action now. Here at Progressives Everywhere, we’ve raised over $40,000 for GOTV groups this year, most of it over the last few months. Now, we want to go all-in on raising needed cash to help these organizations maximize their voter contacts over the next few weeks. It requires cash to run their advanced digital systems, pay field employees, and advertise online, so let’s help them as best we can.

Below, I spoke with leaders of two of the major grassroots organizations doing the hard work to put Democrats over the top when all the votes are counted. I can’t think of any better investment right now, so please help them finish off Donald Trump and the GOP with whatever kind of investment you can offer.

Community Change Action

Established in 1968, Community Change has been around since the tail end of the last civil rights era. This year, the organization is working to usher in a new era of civil rights advocacy and advancement by massively expanding its operations and connecting with voters beyond the typical checklist phone call or text message.

With a focus on working people and people of color, Community Change stands as a crucial link to underserved but enormously crucial voting blocs who often wind up disenfranchised at the ballot box and in policymaking.

“We believe that by engaging people who have been historically disengaged, we not only change the ultimate outcome of the election, but we also are building their long-term infrastructure and organizing capacity that we need to achieve progressive political agenda,” Grecia Lima, the national political director at Community Change, tells Progressives Everywhere. “We want for them to find a political home inside of their state that they can continue to be connected to, even after the election.”

Community Change Action, the organization’s political action arm, is now operating in eight states and 28 congressional districts. It’s running its own grassroots outreach campaigns in Arizona, Michigan, Georgia, and Colorado, while it has teamed with three other progressive groups — Planned Parenthood, SEIU, and Color of Change — for huge voter contact campaigns in Florida, Nevada, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

Thus far, Community Change has engaged 6.1 million voters with 11 million phone calls and 2.3 million text messages. The numbers date back to January, but most of them have come in the last few weeks. The group has been busy, to say the least.

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Down Home is organizing the rural south and overcoming the legacy of racism

The Democratic Party made much of its inroads in 2018 by picking off low-hanging fruit, flipping some legislatures and half of Congress by winning districts with big demographics shifts, mainly in urban and large suburban areas. It was a huge first step, but any hope of a sustained majority and transformative progress is going to require success in more rural areas, which have become the bright-red homes to some of the most unhinged right-wing Republican lawmakers.

North Carolina is a perfect example. Democrats, powered by new voters in cities like Charlotte and Raleigh, won more votes in the state in 2018, and were able to break the GOP supermajority, but Republicans still won more seats in the state legislature and a whopping 10 out of 13 Congressional seats. Why? In a vile cycle of systemic evil that took decades to install, Republicans took control of rural areas, seized the state government in the 2010 wave election, and then gerrymandered the hell out of the state map. The NC GOP is a melange of unhinged reactionaries, and has been advancing blatantly anti-democratic, anti-human laws ever since, from voter ID to the ignominious anti-trans bathroom bills.

The 2018 election was a good first step for Democrats in the state, but the modest gains could prove short-lived if the 2020 election isn’t even better. “If it’s not divided at least between a majority in the two state houses,” explains Todd Zimmer, the co-founder of the activist group Down Home North Carolina, “the Republicans will be able to draw all the maps again right after the 2020 census and put us right back where we were 10 years ago.”

Democrats need to pick up five seats in the State Senate and six in the State House to take back the majority in each chamber, and now the road to restoring sanity and building equality in North Carolina runs through the still-red rural parts of the state. Down Home NC is helping to lead the charge. They’re working to build grassroots power 365 days a year, with an eye on winning elections at the local level up through the US Senate (North Carolina has a top-tier race in 2020), by organizing working people on a county-by-county level.

“We set out to start building permanent long-term infrastructure, including candidate pipelines,” Zimmer says. As a county-based organization with a state-wide umbrella leadership, Down Home North Carolina right now has three main chapters, two in Appalachian Mountain West and one in the central Piedmont of North Carolina. This will be a year of rapid expansion, with two more planned for 2019, one in the Appalachians and another Piedmont chapter closer to Charlotte. Unlike many groups, the local infrastructure is less a tool for disseminating top-down messages and priorities than rallying grassroots energy tailored to regional needs.

“When we enter a community, we do a several thousand door listening survey to find out what the top issues are for low-income people of all political stripes, and what their top solutions are,” Zimmer says. “We turn that into a platform and our members evaluate potential candidates based on that platform. We are really only trying to support candidates who are speaking to the top issues of rural communities.”

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Special elections down south could make a huge difference

You thought there would be time to rest after Election Day? C’mon. There are some big special elections coming down the pike already!

In Virginia, Democrats could take the State House of Delegates and win a state government trifecta if they can pull off an upset in the special election for HD-24. It’s a historically very red seat, but remember that Democrats flipped a ton of red seats in the Virginia legislature in 2017 and won big in congressional elections there this year, so the party is motivated and firing on all cylinders.

The Democratic nominee, chosen yesterday, is Christian Worth. The Republican nomination is a bit cloudy right now, as two candidates are separated by a single vote and there’s been no concession. Perhaps Democrats can take advantage of the division and grab the seat. The election is December 18th.

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Why Beto didn’t really lose: Texas Democrats made huge gains, ousting the worst Republicans

Democrats will likely end with 38 House pickups and new senators from Arizona and Nevada. On the state level, we flipped seven governorships (with Georgia and Florida still up in the air) and six state legislative chambers (including the State Senate here in New York!), with nearly 400 legislative seats flipped over the course of this election cycle. Democrats in Arizona narrowed Republican majorities, while Team Blue broke super-majorities in crucial states like Pennsylvania and North Carolina. A majority of voters actually voted Democrat in NC; an absurd GOP gerrymander was the only thing that kept that party in power.

There was also an immense amount of progress made in Texas. Really.

On paper, rockstar Rep. Beto O’Rourke came just short of unseating Sen. Ted Cruz, who beat him by less than three percentage points. It comes as little consolation to many of O’Rourke’s national supporters that it was the closest race in Texas in years — we all desperately wanted to unseat Cruz, a cynical snake wearing a suit of second-hand human skin with a face only an exterminator could love. But even though Beto came up short, his all-inclusive grassroots campaign helped lift other Democrats across Texas, assisting in major gains in a number of areas.

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