Many people fear change. They cling to things that no longer serve them while telling themselves that what they have is “better than nothing.” This type of fear-based thinking can often leave them invested in a hopeless career, relationship, partnership — or government. As we prepare for the November 2020 elections, the battle cry of many Americans seems to be "anything is better than this."
It's not human to lack empathy and cling to power, while refusing to acknowledge the basic human rights of the citizens you serve in the midst of a national emergency. We’ve had enough, and our votes in November must reflect this. However, a new face in the Oval Office is not enough to address poverty, growing wealth inequality and police violence. These persistent social, political and economic issues are a weapon, pointed directly towards you. They fueled the popularity of President Donald Trump. Removing him from office and replacing him does little to address these matters if we do not step up our collective efforts as engaged citizens.
In Search of a Hero
We often give up our personal power in search of heroes. When we encounter something terrifying, we feel like we can't face it and begin to look for heroes and champions to save us. Historically, many of these “champions” exploit our fear to create power for themselves. We elevate people, and when they let us down, we go searching for other heroes to replace the fallen ones. If we can't find a living hero, we may even revive the memories of dead heroes. (“If he or she were alive, this would never happen.”)
During the 2016 election, Americans were facing shrinking opportunities for the future due to poverty, massive income inequality and excessive consumer debt. Those who feel that President Trump only rose to power because of corporate greed and racism often miss the fact that a group of desperate Americans felt so disenfranchised, that they intentionally elected a bully to protect them from society. While we may disagree with their political decisions, in a world where hunger, unemployment and exploitation of the less fortunate is the norm, it’s easy to see why people thought they needed a hero.
America’s economy was built on chattel slavery, theft of resources and systemic oppression of minorities. In the past 20 years, growth in high-value sectors like technology was often fueled by the efforts of immigrants, since less than 20% of Americans have a university degree, which is a requirement to transition into many of the higher income job sectors.
As a result of this and several other factors, poverty in America has been on the rise since the Great Recession of 2008. This is reflected by the staggering number of Americans who struggle with food insecurity from birth. More than 38 million American households live under the Federal Poverty Line. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Federal Government’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), serves 53% of all infants born in America.
This trend continues into adulthood. Currently, 1 in 9 people in the United States currently struggle to provide food for themselves. Over 48 million Americans rely on the food stamps they receive from the Federal Government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to meet their needs.
For white families, food insecurity affects more 1 in 10 households (10%), compared with 1 in 4 Black households (25%) or 1 in 5 Latino households (20%) who experience food insecurity. In 1968, the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, known as the Kerner Commission, wrote a report to President Lyndon B. Johnson. The purpose of the report was to “assess the specific economic and social inequities confronting African Americans.” In 2018, the Economic Policy Institute undertook another study to “compare the state of Black workers and their families in 1968 with the circumstances of their descendants today, 50 years after the Kerner report was released.” Their findings were incredibly disappointing:
“With respect to homeownership, unemployment, and incarceration, America has failed to deliver any progress for African Americans over the last five decades. In these areas, their situation has either failed to improve relative to whites or has worsened. In 2017 the black unemployment rate was 7.5 percent, up from 6.7 percent in 1968, and is still roughly twice the white unemployment rate. In 2015, the black homeownership rate was just over 40 percent, virtually unchanged since 1968, and trailing a full 30 points behind the white homeownership rate, which saw modest gains over the same period. And the share of African Americans in prison or jail almost tripled between 1968 and 2016 and is currently more than six times the white incarceration rate.”
Overall, most negative social and economic shocks in the U.S. have affected POCs more disproportionately, including the impacts of recessions, such as the one that began officially in June of 2020, due to the coronavirus. The pandemic has left over 43 million Americans unemployed. Experts are predicting that over 54 million people, or 17% of American households, will experience food insecurity in 2020. This includes 18 million children. During the Great Recession, Black families lost 10% of their income, on average. White families only lost 5% or half this amount for those same years. Black families have lost 13% of their wealth since then, while white families gained 3% more wealth.
Black Votes Matter
It is clear that the current challenges we are facing as a community demand a change in leadership in the Executive Office. However, the President cannot make or interpret laws, decide how federal money will be spent or choose Cabinet members and Supreme Court Justices without Senate approval. These limitations on Presidential power mean that most of the decisions regarding our lives are actually made by Congress, local governments and county executives.
The Role of Local Officials in Protecting Communities
After 9/11, Congress passed laws that allowed local Law Enforcement Agencies to increase the use of surveillance technology in order to protect citizens from the danger of another terrorist attack. According to legal advocacy groups like the ACLU, Law Enforcement abused this technology:
“The increasing use of surveillance technologies by local police across America, especially against communities of color and other unjustly targeted groups, has been creating oppressive and stigmatizing environments in which every community member is treated like an enemy of the state or a prospective criminal. Many communities of color and of low income have been turned into open air prisons, where residents’ public behavior is monitored and scrutinized 24 hours a day. In most cities, decisions to acquire and use spying technologies are made by police departments, in secret, without any knowledge or input from the public or their elected officials.”
To protect local residents from surveillance programs designed to protect the public, many City Council representatives pressured local jurisdictions to adopt Community Control Over Police Surveillance (CCOPS) laws that gave residents the power to decide when and how surveillance was used in their communities. Currently, these laws only apply in 14 jurisdictions, where they protect 14 million people. In 2019, San Francisco banned the use of facial recognition technology through a CCOPS law. Currently, law enforcement is using surveillance technology to share information for tracking the spread of COVID and to monitor whether people are abiding by screening requirements, restrictions on travel and the ability to congregate in large groups.
Recently, New York's City Council adopted a CCOPS law forcing the nation’s largest police force to disclose how it uses technology, in the wake of the George Floyd protests and increased policing due to COVID.
Black Local Officials Matter
Under Trump, the threat of racial violence against Black people is at an all-time high. Many social scientists have been pointing out that the demographics of the violence is changing as well. In the 1990s, police violence against Black people and other minorities took place in the cities like Los Angeles or New York, where Amadou Diallo was shot. Since then, more Black folks have moved into the suburbs. As a result, police violence has spread to include suburbs and “areas of transition,” where Black families are moving to:
“Today, stories of violence against African Americans come not just from the inner city, but the suburbs. As recent shootings by the police – of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri; Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida; Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota; John Crawford in an Ohio Walmart – show, something has changed in America today. Eric Garner’s death in Staten Island shows police violence against black people still happens in cities, but even that happened in a comparatively mixed part of the borough.”
For instance, in a structural analysis of police violence in 170 cities, researchers show that “racial inequality explains police killings” and that “Black people mostly live in overwhelmingly Black neighborhoods because white neighborhoods are unsafe for Black people.” A majority of wealthy Black people self-segregate due to fear of violence, harassment and intimidation from their neighbors and local Law Enforcement. This is because police shootings are less likely to occur in areas with a Black mayor. Researchers noted that “police shootings peak in the middle: beginning with an all-white area, they rise as the black population begins to get bigger but is not large enough to be politically dominant. When the black community is large enough to have significant political influence, fewer shootings occur.” The safety of our communities depends directly on the number of Black people or POCs in local government, including governors, mayors, district attorneys, county commissioners, attorney generals, superintendents of schools and members of city council.
Black Money Matters
In addition to poverty and police violence, we are facing negative outcomes from greater wealth inequality. Large companies act like they're one paycheck away from an EBT card, while we are continually taxed to pay them subsidies to "ride out the recession." Many corporate entities pay their employees poverty sustaining wages, while keeping a majority of the value of worker's productivity as profit.
The billionaires who own these companies are getting a pass because they put their money where their mouth is — by lobbying Congress to create laws that favor them. We should too. The self destructive amnesiac freedom we exercise when we continue to support these corporations is merely a reintroduction to a less antiquated form of slavery. Our leaders will not represent us until we stop contributing our time, mental energy and money to the people who are funding our oppression and begin investing in securing better leaders in our community.
In 2018, the Democratic Party began aggressively courting POCs, who were seen as key to securing Congress in the midterm elections.
“Democratic National Committee is undertaking an expansive, multimillion dollar strategic plan to motivate voters who typically sit out midterm elections, with a particular focus on engaging nonwhite communities through new investments in local organizing and a six-figure advertising campaign … It includes $1.2 million split across 16 state parties to hire community organizers targeting groups who have been historically unlikely to vote — including black, Latino, Asian, millennial and rural voters.”
The DNC also reportedly invested heavily in “a new cluster of left-leaning super PACs and grassroots political groups — with names such as BlackPAC, Black Economic Alliance and Asian American Victory Fund" that “depend heavily on funding from white donors,” says Quentin James, founder of The Collective PAC, a Black Owned PAC which supported candidates such as Kamla Harris, Ilhan Omar and Keisha Lance Bottoms. According to James:
“We’ve been told the biggest lie in politics, which is that the only thing that matters is your vote,” James said, citing the ramifications of the Citizens United decision. “If our community wants to be fully taken into account in this political system, our dollars have to matter as much as our votes.”
1 in 7 white families are now millionaires (15%). For Black families, it’s 1 in 50 (2%). It’s easy to see how many Black families are deterred from giving to political institutions where they are outspent and underrepresented. Nonetheless, our collective impact cannot be ignored. In 2018, many popular candidates raised funds from individuals who contributed $200 or less. Small donations put candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in office. Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign raised over $2 million dollars and 61% of those funds came from individual contributions of $200 or less.
A Meal at the Table
It’s really romantic — the idea of a rogue vigilante turned revolutionary, who saves a nation through a courageous act of defiance. But this is the lie that brought us Donald Trump. In truth, no individual can lead a nation. If we decide that it's too difficult to speak up, someone else will always speak for us. We must all put our power to good use. Otherwise, with a bullet, salvation dies, along with the savior. This is a lesson we know all too well in our community, where slain heroes and un-revived causes are common.
We can’t just be anti-Trump, we have to become proactive citizens or we will always be offered “a seat at the table,” but no dinner. We must hold our elected officials accountable — regardless of which side put them in power — and invest our money in supporting candidates who will ensure that we have the right to pull up, ready to eat with our own menu — complete with vegan options.