When we think about the history of Black organizing and the social movements it has sparked, the right to vote has always been a central demand. The act of voting is not a transactional tool about electing one particular candidate but part of a transformational strategy to advance the fight for social, racial and economic justice. Although Black turnout is often determinative in the presidential election, as well as many other down ballot races, voting remains, for many Black Americans, a long-term political tool. When working to mobilize the Black community, it is important to connect elections to the issues that matter to communities and view it simply as one step towards the larger goal of building Black political power.
The link between voting and social justice organizing within the Black community remains strong, even in our current political context. Recently, the Black Civic Engagement Action Fund, in partnership with other progressive allies, conducted a survey to better understand the Black electorate and the issues most pressing to our communities. We found that Black people see voting as an important tool for pushing reform. For example, 78% of respondents stated that if the Black community turns out in high rates, they can influence the way decisions are made and what policies are considered within the state. Furthermore, Blacks see voting as one of the many ways to have impact on some of the most important issues of our day – ending mass incarceration, ensuring police accountability, and reforming the criminal justice system. For instance, 90% of Blacks agree (74% strongly agree) that when they see coverage of police shootings of unarmed Black people, it makes them want to vote to elect officials who will reform police departments across the country. We found this sentiment held across generations — 90% of young Blacks under 40 agreed (70% strongly agreed) and 91% of Blacks over 41 agreed (78% strongly agreed) with this statement. We also found that down ballot races for prosecutors, school boards, and other local positions were powerful incentives for Blacks to turn out.
This is why the Black Civic Engagement Fund’s strategy to support voter engagement and GOTV programs that operate within more sustainable Black organizing structures is so important and effective. We invest in infrastructure that brings together Black organizing groups within states to develop aligned voter engagement plans, as well as aligned organizing and policy agendas. The result is greater capacity to mobilize Black voters for the election ahead – and to continue the critical organizing and issue advocacy that begins the day after.
To achieve our goals, we are working to build Black infrastructure hubs across the country. One example is in North Carolina, a state that is in national spotlight in the wake of the recent police shooting and ensuing community protests and poised to make historic electoral gains this November, with seven Black candidates on the ballot. In the last four years, BCEF has been working to seed the growth of much of this infrastructure. In 2016, BCEF grantees in the state have created programs to mobilize and turn out the Black vote and build long-term Black political power.
- On the 501(c)(3) side, Blueprint NC is mobilizing groups and working with the Black Leadership and Organizing Collective (BLOC NC) to run their first coordinated program to talk to nearly 40,000 young Black voters across the state. This project was incubated by seed money from the BCEF and is the first step of a larger collaborative effort between Black-led organizations in the state. More significantly, this funding has given groups the flexibility they need to respond to this unique political and social justice moment. BLOC organizers are currently working with community leaders and activist during the Charlotte protests and figuring out how create outcomes that are reflective of the needs of the Black community in their state.
- On the 501(c)(4) side, Advance Carolina has built an impressive 24-county program to both build membership and mobilize Black voters. The organization is working to hold turnout in the Black community at 2012 levels by educating the community about the “Magnificent Seven.” This is a cohort of seven Black candidates running for statewide office.This is North Carolina’s first statewide Black c4, a concept that would not have existed four years ago, before the BCEF was created.
Through sustained organizing, Black organizations are building critical programs and infrastructure that will endure and contribute to the next phase of history that the African American Museum of History and Culture rightly celebrates. At the museum’s dedication, President Obama acknowledged that “this is the place to understand how protest and love of country don’t merely coexist but inform each other.” The BCEF supports work at that intersection, and in doing so, strengthens the entire progressive infrastructure and continues our nation’s march toward justice.