Time for a new Black political direction?

Roger House | 3/7/2019, 12:53 p.m.
As Afro-Americans look to the 2020 elections, the midterm elections might have pointed the way to a new direction for ...
Voting/election Wikipedia

As Afro-Americans look to the 2020 elections, the midterm elections might have pointed the way to a new direction for Black politics in the 21st century. To fully understand the implications, however, will require a rethinking of political assumptions after the Obama era.

Since the 1965 Voting Rights Act, our political energy was rightly centered on gaining power in municipal government and congressional districts. The benefits were seen in the growth of Black representation in city councils, school boards, mayoralties and Black-majority congressional districts.

In recent decades, a new class of Afro-American politicians emerged with the ability to mobilize racially diverse and even majority-white locales. They have successfully represented diverse electorates at the local level, in Congress and, on occasion, in the Senate. This dynamic led to the election of Barack Obama in a diverse coalition that relied on large Black turnout.

One advantage to such arrangements is that the Black community retains a small measure of influence in the political discourse. A second is that it has created new opportunities for savvy politicians such as U.S. senators Kamala Harris and Corey Booker.

The drawback, however, is that the core interests of our community are often marginalized when in competition with stronger interests in the coalition. Moreover, such arrangements gives undue encouragement to our politicians and communities to focus on the “trophy offices,” such as the U.S. Senate and presidency.

It might be time for Afro-American civic leaders to consider a change in political culture and direction. Should we fall in line for a rehash of the next Democratic Party script taken from the Obama era? Has our community gained most of what could be gained from the arrangement? These questions are legitimate to ask in light of the midterm election outcome.

The midterm election highlighted the often underestimated reality of political power in the American federal structure. It demonstrated the extent to which power resides in the states. Yet history shows that the states have been a frustrating arena of politics for our community. Our quest for statewide political influence has been denied since the violent overthrow of the Reconstruction governments in the 1880s.

The midterm elections provided an opportunity to confront this dilemma anew. Promising candidates in southern states ran credible campaigns for governor. Although they fell short of the mark, they came surprisingly close to breaking through the glass ceiling. It took ugly episodes of voter suppression activity and racist dog whistling to upset their momentum.

Now is not the time for our civic leaders to abandon this quest. Now is the time for a call to action to gain statewide political power in the South. Our leaders and media should encourage a broad conversation on this goal.

The strategy would be to nurture state organizations to mobilize voters and field candidates for the wide array of state offices, both elected and appointed: governor, secretary of state, attorney general, judgeships and legislative seats. The mission is to establish a base of influence to nurture the core political, economic and social interests of our community.