CLEVELAND – African Americans, traditionally loyal to the Democratic Party, are vital to Joe Biden’s hopes of beating Donald Trump in the Nov. 3 presidential election, yet many Blacks in the United States are tired of being forgotten by politicians between elections and may not see voting as a priority amid the struggle for survival under a pandemic.
“I’m going to vote, but what’s going to change?” 54-year-old Robert says while sitting in front of a shop in Cleveland, the largest city in the key electoral state of Ohio.
Politicians come to Black neighborhoods at election time looking for votes, but once elected, “they forget the people who put them there,” he tells EFE.
Despite his disenchantment, Robert, like many African Americans over 50, still feels a moral obligation to participate in the process.
Knowing that other Black people shed blood to establish their right to vote, plenty of older African Americans see voting as a “duty,” according to Rashawn Ray, professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park, and a fellow at The Brookings Institution.
While Robert may be voting out of habit, Yvonka Hall is doing so based on conviction.
No nation has been hit harder by COVID-19 than the US, with 217,000 deaths and nearly eight million confirmed cases. Blacks and Hispanics account for disproportionate numbers of both fatalities and infections and the virus has taken a heavy toll among residents of Hall’s neighborhood in east Cleveland.
“I have a health condition and so, you know, it’s when can I touch somebody again, when can I hug somebody again, when can I just live again? If the only way that can happen is by making sure that we go out and vote, then hell, everybody needs to go out and vote, that’s it,” she insists.
Hall, 52, is executive director of the Northeast Ohio Black Health Coalition and is well acquainted with the damage done by coronavirus to lives and livelihoods.
“For people who are struggling and trying to get by, I think that this (the election) has not come to the top of their radar. But I think for us who know the power of politics, we have to make it a priority for our community,” she tells EFE outside her home.
African American women have come to be seen as the backbone of the Democratic Party. Not only do they vote, they influence family members to do so as well.
The higher Black participation is, the better it will be for Biden’s chances of ousting the Republican incumbent.
To make that happen, however, the Biden campaign will need to motivate African American men, many of whom didn’t cast ballots in 2016, and young people.
Juan Goodwin, a 35-year-old community organizer who lives in the same part of town as Robert, says it isn’t hard to persuade people of the need for a change in the White House.
“This time around, this election cycle, I’ve just been real blunt: it’s life or death,” he tells EFE. “If you look around us, people are dyin’ from policies that are happenin’.”
“There hasn’t been a day since November 2016 (when Trump was elected) that I haven’t had conversations with black men about it. It kinda took over the debates about sports that we would have in group chats or just at the grocery store,” he recalls.
But African Americans who want to vote, whether in person or by mail, face organized opposition, Adrianne Shropshire, executive director of BlackPAC (political action committee) and the affiliated nonpartisan Black Progressive Action Coalition, tells EFE.
“In this moment, what we know is that there is still large-scale propaganda disinformation campaigns out there to depress the black vote. We know that there is still ongoing attempts to stop black people from being actually able to cast their ballots,” she says.
Trump has made an effort to win over African Americans, especially men, with a message that the Democrats don’t really care about them, Shropshire points out.
The real estate mogul got 8 percent of the Black vote in 2016 and his team thinks that Trump’s prospects for a second term would be boosted if he could pick up 10 percent of the African American vote this time.
One Black man planning to vote for Trump is Nazir Clemons, 22.
“I don’t particularly like him as a person, but his policies haven’t been particularly harmful to Americans,” Clemons tells EFE at an anti-racism protest in Cleveland. “At the end of the day, right now we really need someone who’s gonna be doing good for our economy and I think Trump is far more likely to do good for the economy than Biden is.”
Most African Americans in their 20s have progressive politics and though they may have little enthusiasm for the centrist Biden, they see the importance of electing mayors and city councilors who will do something to curb police brutality.
The Black Lives Matter movement resonates with African Americans in Cleveland, where 12-year-old Tamir Rice was fatally shot by a white police officer in 2014 while playing with a toy gun.
The policeman was never charged.
During a recent protest here against racism, a speaker noted that had he lived, Tamir would be old enough to vote, and urged people to “vote in his name.”