More and more, the Black community has become collateral damage in today’s politics. As much as we’ve gained from our close association to the Democratic Party, I fear we’ve lost even more. The moment Black America became a guaranteed block of voters for Democrats, was the moment our “special” relationship became one defined by broken promises and lopsided compromises that leave us patiently waiting for reforms that never come. If we are to truly empower our community, we must form new coalitions, separate from the two-party system, and join hands in an independent movement for electoral reform.
It’s no secret the Democrats have the Black vote on lock. Black people have unquestionably voted Democrat since Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Our blind loyalty causes Democrats to take the Black vote for granted because they can. As a result, our community suffers no matter who is in office because our current political system does not hold politicians accountable to their voters. Furthermore, our current political system lacks competition among candidates running for office. Therefore, politicians have no reason to prioritize a Black agenda. Progress in the Black community is nonexistent as promises fall on deaf ears when the time comes for politicians to deliver.
More and more Americans are opting out of the two-party system and registering as independents. It’s the fastest-growing block of voters in the country. The latest Gallup poll found independents to be a staggering 43% of the electorate. African Americans are also claiming their independence from the Democrats, with 30% of Black voters identifying as independent. Many Americans — including Black Americans — are increasingly recognizing that our political system emphasizes the importance of the political parties over the American people. Black voters decide elections, but the only question that gets asked of us is, “how high will our turnout be?” Who we vote for is always assumed, and that assumption dilutes our power as voters every time we vote.
We are being sold the falsehood that the Black community’s interests align with conserving the power of the Democratic Party. It’s a narrative that protects the party at our expense. Competition for the Black vote is the only way our community is going to gain the real power necessary to impact policy in this country.
Black voters in America are well familiar with what happens to our community every election year. Our issues are prioritized during the election season, only to be placed on the back-burner after election day. It’s a tired, tired cycle. The time is now for the Black community to realize that the path to power lies in making every politician compete for our vote — Republican, Green, Libertarian and, yes, Democrat.
All around the country, multi-demographic coalitions are forming to reform our democracy. Black voters have always been at the forefront of every major change movement in this country. We need to be front and center in reforming American democracy our way, not the Democratic Party’s way. These coalitions are fighting for electoral reforms that begin by ending closed party primaries — bought and paid for by all taxpayers — and moving to more open, nonpartisan primaries that let all voters vote for any candidate of their choice, regardless of party. Black voters pay for the primaries like everyone else, but thousands of independent Black voters are disenfranchised every year in closed, party primaries. Many more who are registered Democrats are cut off from any meaningful choices of candidates. Closed elections silo voters and prevent the kind of broad coalitions that were critical to passing the civil rights agenda decades ago and are standing in the way of serious policy reform now.
Open primaries will not only create more competitive elections, they will force legislators to work together in an effort to solve the problems they promised to solve because they have to actually compete for votes. When politicians are accountable to every voter — not just the special interests — they actually have to deliver on their promises in order to get elected and stay in office. That is why the Independent movement is so important, particularly in the Black community.
African Americans have played a critical role in the evolution of our economy, our culture and our democracy. The Democratic Party takes us for granted and we deserve so much better. The time has come to remind Democrats who we are and change our political system so they never forget. Let’s break away from the Democratic Party and embark on a more independent path.
Jarell Corley is a U.S. Army Field Artillery Officer, a national spokesperson for Open Primaries and a native of Chicago.
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not represent the views or opinions of the Department of Defense, The United States Army or any governmental agencies affiliated with The United States Government.