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.