Ben Jealous Says Politicians And Activists Need To Mobilize To Defend The Black Male Vote
The President of People For the American Way, argues that Black men are a powerful voting group but need to be shown that politics can benefit their lives.
November 10, 2020 at 7:41 pm
Jealous, a venture capitalist, former candidate for Governor of Maryland, became the youngest person to serve as NAACP president when elected in 2008.
Having stepped down from the NAACP in 2013, he now helps to elevate up-and-coming politicians through People For The American Way. The org boasts notable alumni including Stacey Abrams, Pete Buttigieg, Joaquin and Julian Castro, Andrew Gillum, and Ilhan Omar.
Under Jealous’ leadership, People For The American Way has been conducting a Defend the Black Vote campaign to mobilize and inform Black men in particular.
“Young Black men are targeted more intensely,” the California native told Blavity, adding that disinformation campaigns intend to flummox voters of color.
In terms of keeping Black men engaged in politics, Jealous said that “we have to make real change happen in real time."
"We have to feel like we’re winning," he added.
Jealous reflected on becoming president of the NAACP at a time of stagnant membership and donations, and attracting new members and supporters by advocating for Black people in High profile justice cases.
“We got a lot of folks out of prison," he said.
He highlighted the case of sisters Jamie and Gladys Scott, who with the help of the NAACP and other organizations had their life sentences suspended in 2011 after being convicted of an armed robbery in which no more than $200, and possibly as little as $11, was stolen.
Driven by these successes and sustained organizing efforts, the NAACP under Jealous was able to gather hundreds of thousands of activists' cell phone numbers and millions of email addresses, and the organization steadily increased membership and received record-setting donations. Using these examples, he urged the Democratic Party and civil rights groups to “focus on winning real victories in real time that transform Black men’s lives” in public safety and the economy.
The key to achieving victories in police reform, he argued, was to focus activism and political organizing on the city and county level.
Jealous went on to say that “Black men are like the canary in the coal mine” in the American economy, and tend to suffer first and more severely from economic downturns that impact working class people. Addressing high levels of joblessness among Black men, a situation that “crushes souls,” would be key to demonstrating long-term that the political system could work for Black men.
“The whitest states don’t ban inmates from voting — inmates get to vote in Vermont and Maine," the 47-year-old said.
In both states, those incarcerated are overwhelmingly white and often Republican voters.
By contrast, in states like Virginia where there's a large Black population, restrictions on voting for formerly incarcerated people has a long history of targeted disenfranchisement of Black voters dating back to Jim Crow era laws passed to reverse the political gains made by Black politicians and voters during Reconstruction. This system is now referred to as prison gerrymandering.
The efforts have historically been part of a system that also deprived women and poor white men from voting. Then, as now, Jealous reminded that false concerns over voter fraud were used to justify widespread disenfranchisement.
In terms of defending the Black vote before and after the election, Jealous cited long-term goals like passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, statehood for Washington D.C. and more.
“Before Election Day, the best way to defend the Black vote is to vote,” regardless of opposition, as activists such as Lewis or Jealous’ own 104-year-old grandmother did in the years of legal voter suppression who wouldn't let anything stop her from voting.
“They used to charge us money and we paid it and voted; whatever the obstacle is, you just go vote," Jealous said of past forms of voter suppression.
Jealous said he looked forward to seeing his "old friends" Joe Biden and Kamala Harris taking over the executive office but added that we should not let up on putting political pressure on the government even with them in charge.
“We will be pushing them mercilessly because the corporations and everyone else is pushing them from the other side,” Jealous pledged. “If you actually want to see politicians, even politicians that you respect listening to their better angels, it means that you’ve got to amplify the voice of the angels, and that’s what activists do when we’re at our best.”