Black advocates are calling on Democrats to deliver on promises they made to Black voters on the midterm campaign trail if they want to keep their support for the 2024 presidential election.
While midterm outreach included figures such as Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison traveling through battleground states such as Pennsylvania and Georgia to meet with Black voters, advocates are concerned that Democratic enthusiasm to engage with the key voting bloc could diminish until the next election cycle ramps up.
“What we consistently see as it relates largely to political parties is that the outreach, the engagement, the investment in Black voters — who are the strongest constituency in the Democratic Party — comes too late to have any real kind of impact,” said Alicia Garza, principal of Black to the Future Action Fund.
Last week’s election brought a wave of relief for Democrats, who managed to win control of the Senate with 50 seats to Republicans’ 49. They have a chance to win one more seat if Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) wins reelection in a December runoff against GOP candidate Herschel Walker.
“Our communities already expect that once the races are called, nobody’s going to be texting us, nobody’s going to be calling us and nobody’s going to be concerned about what it is we want,” said Garza. “But the priorities that we know don’t end on Election Day are the priorities that we hear from Black voters regularly.”
Leading up to the election, Black voters and organizations identified topics such as inflation and the economy, job security and housing, and white supremacy and white nationalism as some of their top concerns.
Keturah Herron, a former American Civil Liberties Union policy strategist and newly elected representative to the Kentucky House of Representatives, pointed out these topics, along with racial justice concerns and the overturning of Roe v. Wade, pushed Black voters to the polls and encouraged them to mobilize their family and friends in what they saw as a life-or-death election.
But Herron saw this happen because she was on the ground in these communities — something not all candidates or elected officials take the time to do, she said.
“I think we have to do a better job of being in the community, educating the community and listening to the concerns of the community,” said Herron. “I believe that what is important is really that bottom-up approach: listening for what the community wants and needs.”
But even as Black voters have been vocal about their concerns, many — especially young voters — feel leaders aren’t listening to them.
“We need to be looking at Black young people who are becoming increasingly disillusioned with the party structure,” said Garza. It’s these voters who are already threatening not to vote and even going so far as to say they don’t identify with the party at all.
“As an organizer, I can tell you, when people feel disillusioned or people feel marginalized, they can either be brought into the fold or they can become dangerous,” said Garza.
But voters can also fight back against this, said Judith Browne Dianis, executive director of Advancement Project.
“Too often, what happens with our elections is that people vote, and then they move on and don’t still engage after that, and people who are elected don’t engage [voters] afterwards,” said Dianis.
“It’s a stark problem, especially for Black voters feeling like they’re being taken advantage of because nobody talks to them in between [elections],” she added.
But this could be easily addressed through better communication, advocates say.
Instead of leaders sitting on daytime news shows, Dianis said, they have to meet voters on the platforms they frequent — and it has to be a conversation between voters and leaders.
“Too often in this country, we elect people on Election Day, and we think our job is done,” she said. “But actually our job is 365 days a year of holding the people that we elect accountable.”
That means emailing and calling leaders’ offices and making sure they know voters continue to stay engaged, she said. Leaders then need to respond with education and making sure voters have all the information they need, including where politicians stand on issues most important to constituents, she added.
Meanwhile, Garza said, the party also needs to back candidates who are doing “deep engagement with Black communities,” including moving money and fundraising on their behalf.
If Democrats want to maintain Black voters’ support, especially for the 2024 presidential election, they also need to increase engagement efforts with Black communities in rural areas, speak with Black men more and solidify the support of Black women.
The party also must take time to connect with local officials and grassroots organizations, said Herron. This not only builds trust between the national party and voters, but it will give officials at the federal level insight into the biggest concerns of their constituents.
Lastly, the advocates say, Democrats need to stop believing Black voters are “in the bag.” This narrative leaves many feeling frustrated, taken for granted and less likely to vote.
In order for that not to happen, said Herron, the party could lay out what has been done specifically for Black and brown communities.
“It shows where the work still needs to be done, but it also gives people hope that their voices have been heard and that change has happened,” she said. “We’ve been disenfranchised and oppressed for so long, and so it’s going to be a long road, but I believe that if we continue to do this work on a consistent basis, we will see the results that work.”