Local Politics In The Time of Trump
An Important Meeting...
On a recent Thursday night at the Colorado Democratic Offices in Denver, community organization leaders, activist and elected officials gathered together in the conference room – one of the main topics centered on “Getting Out the Black Vote”. The meeting featured a who’s who of Colorado democrats; Morgan Carroll, the Colorado Democratic Party Chairwoman, political consultant John Bailey, Sen. Angela Williams, and Sen Rhonda Fields among other office candidates and political surrogates. John Bailey, set the tone of the meeting when he stated, “We’re now at the best of times and the worst of times. The worst of times in terms of Trump. But the best of times because we now know more about what’s going on in the world than we ever have. The information, the ability to comprehend, the ability to interpret messaging, has made us a more informed African American. I think it’s important to take advantage of that at this time.”
Ideas and methods were discussed about what needs to be done to get people out to vote and how to do it. Information was given out that outlined the job descriptions of political offices up and down the ballot, a list of key counties that demonstrated the power of the Black vote through numbers, the different ways to register to vote, and self-defense against voter suppression. It was a tool kit for voter advocacy.
While the majority of the national political news centers on the Trump administration, local politics continue to grind its wheels persistently and far away from the national spotlight. Local issues such as poverty, education, homelessness, incarceration, and racismand police brutality continue to plague African American communities. Though the national headlines are concentrating on an unprecedented dysfunctional White House, the everyday lives and struggles of millions of Americans continue to be a main concern of local politics. It is the local politics that have the most impact in our day-to-day lives.
“Trump asks, ‘What do we have to lose?’ if we vote for him, and we’ve lost so much. So, we need to be engaged and make sure there are people in office who represent our views and can represent us so things can get better, not worse.”
Maya Wheeler — Chair, African American Initiative of Colorado Democrats
Since the Trump administration has been in in office, a palpable change in our political and social landscape in America has taken place. The lack of civility and disrespect for people and institutions has seeped into politics, education, law enforcement, sports and entertainment and even the news outlets. The division in politics has caused a ripple effect throughout the country and the gap between the two sides is widening.
There has never been a time in recent history when the total lack of respect and the disdain of people of color have been out in the open. What used to simmer under a fake façade of civility is now boiling over the surface and being stoked by the President of the United States. From calling NFL players “Sons of bitches,” in front of cheering crowds because they protested police brutality and other injustices, to defending white supremacist in Charlottesville by equating them with peaceful protesters by proclaiming there were “very bad people” on both sides.
The results of the derision coming from the White House have actually had a positive effect on the African American community: Political involvement is at an all-time high. A groundswell of citizens is getting involved in local and national politics across the country. Black women are running for office in record numbers in Alabama. There are no Black governors in office presently and only four in American history. But Black candidates have won primaries for Governor in three states, Florida, Maryland and Georgia. The Website, Black Women In Politics displays a database of more than 600 African American women that are running for office at the Federal, state and local levels.
Colorado reflects this national trend. Eight African Americans are serving the legislature. That is the most in Colorado’s history. With those eight, (six in the house and two in thesenate), it has allowed African Americans to have a larger voice. In the last two years, they have been able to secure at least 15 million dollars of additional funding for their communities in the budget. This came about by funding amendments sponsored by the eight Black Caucus members.
Jovan Melton, one of the Caucus members and a Colorado State Representative for House District 41, states, “One problem we have is that we see a large (voting) drop-off in non-Presidential years. Not just African Americans but everyone. A lot of people think the President is the most important thing to vote for. But what they don’t realize is, it’s your city council members, it is your state house members, and it’s your school board members that affect you on a daily basis. The president may affect one of your decisions once a year, but we’re the ones that affect your education, transportation, your healthcare — we’re the ones who have a greater impact.”
The effects of underrepresentation can cause apathy among African American voters. This cannot be underestimated. Those that are not represented are less engaged in politics. Disengagement helps perpetuate the cycle of injustice and builds mistrust. Ferguson, Missouri is over 67 percent African American, yet, during the times of the riots, the police force was 94 percent white and Blacks only held one of six seats on its city council.
Of the seven school board members, only two were Black. This is the direct result of not enough Blacks voting, and the apathetic mindset that preserves this plight. This dilemma is the child of police harassment, economic disinvestment, poverty, discrimination and segregation of the African American Community. Things have improved a little since then. However, the lack of political enfranchisement hangs heavily over its citizens of color.
Colorado is in front of the issue. The African American Initiative of Colorado Democrats (AAICD), an organization Chaired by Maya Wheeler, organizes Freedom Stops. The purpose of the Freedom Stops is to visit African American Communities throughput Colorado and exchange insights with those communities and support their local candidates and elected officials. A part of the Freedom Stops is to help people get engaged in politics. “We find that people are registered (to vote). The problem is getting them engaged and actually getting them to turn in their ballots,” Wheeler stated, and added, “We have been registering people as well. We’re trying to engage them early so it’s not a last-minute thing and they don’t know who the candidates are.”
According to the Pew Research Center, 40 percent of Black adults believe that having more Black representation enables Blacks to achieve equality.
What can be done in the face of racism, Russian scandals, and thoughts of treason coming from Washington D.C.? We have to fight back with democratic reforms, one after another, to prove that democracy still lives. As Wellington Webb, Denver’s former and first Black Mayor stated, “We are in a war. A civil war is going on right now.
They are anti Hispanic, anti-Black, anti-brown and anti-immigrant. They say they don’t want to be penalized for the sins of their grandfather — I don’t want to be penalized for them either.”
Apathy has to be fought and confronted. Some groups will try to convince people that their vote does not count. Thisof course is as much a form of voter suppression as the rules and laws used to enforce identification stipulations designed to take the most vulnerable out of the voting ranks. Media literacy has to be learned. A large number of people rely on social media for their news, and distrust the main news media. In the cyber world, it is essential to learn how to tell the difference between fact and fiction.
In the book, “Empire of Illusion” by Chris Hedges, he states, “More than the divide of race, class, or gender, more than rural or urban, believer or nonbeliever, red or blue state, our culture has been carved up into radically distinct, unbridgeable, and antagonistic entities that no longer speak the same language and cannot communicate. This is the divide between a literate, marginalized minority and those who have been consumed by an illiterate mass culture.”
The more we hear lies, the more scandals that are uncovered and the more we hear about the disrespect doled out at the top, the more an annoyed population distracts itself with pseudo-events made up of trivia news (as found on Facebook and YouTube). This points to a civilization on the decline.
However, during this meeting with a groupof democrats, I witnessed a sign of hope as the citizens of our community gathered, planned and demonstrated what needs to be done to change the course our country has been taking in the last two years.
After the Meeting...
After the meeting, I spoke to Morgan Carroll, the Colorado Democratic Party Chairperson, in her office. She stated the importance of local elections.
“It’s going to be the local elections where we make progress. The only way we have checks and balances on Trump right now is through local offices; state governor, attorney general, andstate legislature. At the local level, we can give more rights; at the local level we can do more legislation. We can choose to advance education locally, we can choose to work on economic opportunities locally, we can work on post-secondary colleges, and healthcare equity. There’s a local component to every issue. The power of the community is multiplied during local elections.”
I was handed a list of democratic beliefs. After reading the list, I wondered why the beliefs were looked upon as partisan. In a perfect world, these beliefs should be obvious and pragmatic: the right to a quality education, creating opportunities to earn a good life and increase income, affordable healthcare, treat everyone equally, self-responsibility, clean airand water, our economy should work for those that work hard, etc. It seems no sensible person, regardless of political persuasion, could argue with these beliefs. But we don’t live in a world of pragmatism and empathy.
There is an expected reaction to all of this because the history of African Americans tells us that. As awful as things are presently, our ancestors had it much worse than we would ever have. Their daily experiences are the stuff of our worst nightmares. We have survived lynching, medical experiments, violence, terrorism and of course slavery.
However, even with those monumental barriers, we have managed to survive and came through it all. It is possible that we’ll look back at this time and think that Donald Trump was the best thing that could have happened. Because once we do get a political hold of our own communities though local elections, it’s very unlikely that we’ll give it up. Sometimes a forest has to burn in order to grow. Right now, the African American community is going through a controlled burn; building political clout that will avoid a more combustible situation in the near future if not attended to. In Colorado and all over the United States we are lucky to have the offspring of those men and women who will not only lead us away from the present abomination in the White House, but in the process, will help us build a stronger foundation that will last forever.
Editor’s note: Thomas Holt Russell is a teacher, writer, photographer and modern day Luddite. You can follow him on www.thomasholtrussell.zenfolio.com.