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Opinion: Black People Have A Responsibility To Vote. So Does Everyone Else.

When pundits try to blame minority turnout for lost elections, let’s hold all voters accountable.

Posted on August 30, 2019, at 2:59 p.m. ET

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Audience members raise their hands to question Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer at the Iowa State Fair on Aug. 11.

Black voters are the most loyal voting bloc in the country, and represent the nerve center of our political body. This has proven out election after election, and I firmly believe they will not only decide the next Democratic nominee, but will also have a major say in who will be our next president.

This raises an interesting problem. We know that Democrats win when voters of color turn out to cast their ballot — just look at Barack Obama’s overwhelming victories in 2008 and 2012, Doug Jones’ historic 2017 win and 2018’s Blue Wave. Likewise, Democrats tend to lose when voters of color stay home. A higher minority turnout likely would have saved a Democratic Senate in 2014 and secured a Democrat in the White House in 2016.

But there’s another side to this. Hillary Clinton fell 38 electoral votes short of victory in 2016, and could have made those up in three states she lost by less than one percentage point: Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. She wins those three, she wins the White House.

Only about 14% of Michigan’s population is black, falling to 12% in Pennsylvania and 7% in Wisconsin. And when your victory hinges on the whims of 7% of the population, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

This example illustrates a larger truth in Democratic politics: People of color are said to have a responsibility to vote; white voters have a choice. And when Democrats lose, black voters bear the blame while white voters get a pass.

It’s unreasonable and unfair but it’s true. Just ask yourself how many articles you’ve read about how Hillary Clinton lost because black voters didn’t turn out. In Wisconsin? How many times have you heard pundits talk about how communities of color could have driven Beto O’Rourke to victory in Texas with an Obama-esque turnout in 2018? How often have you seen people decry minority apathy when trying to explain Trump’s popularity in the South?

We have a president who repeatedly attacks minority communities and members of Congress alike while defending white supremacists. People of color know what’s at stake in 2020, and we know that we will bear the brunt of the real-world consequences born out of a Trump reelection. We’re fired up and ready to go. Count on it.

But let’s be honest: Minority voters are, by definition, a minority. My mentor and big brother Cedric Richmond, Louisiana congressman and assistant to the majority whip, often reminds me that you can’t govern if you don’t win. And it takes a village to win an election.

So, instead of managing expectations, let’s raise them — and let’s raise them for everyone.

Let’s acknowledge that rural white voters who vote for Republicans are voting against their own best interest — and let’s do something about it. When they ignore issues like the environment, affordable housing, education, infrastructure, health care, and wages, they're ignoring the ways all these things impact their lives. They also jeopardize the viability of programs upon which they depend and will need in the future, like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

They also have a blind spot on the severity and impact these issues have on communities of color. Communities that look like mine suffer double for their trouble on these issues when they are just presented as issues for others.

Right now, white voters have a choice, while voters of color have urgency. So, let’s share that urgency. We know that working-class white communities are fed up with low wages and high health care costs too. Rural white schools are crumbling too. Affordable housing, climate change, student debt, and Wall Street corruption – yes, the issues affect minority communities more than others. But they affect us all.

We have a shared enemy.

Let’s make it clear not only in our words but in our actions. Let’s spend time going door to door in working-class communities everywhere, white and black, because of that shared enemy. And when pundits try to blame minority voters for lost elections, let’s hold all voters accountable.

Let's stop excusing white voters who aren’t outraged by domestic terrorism or the water crisis in rural black communities like Flint, Michigan, and Denmark, South Carolina. But most importantly, let’s stop assuming that white voters have any less responsibility for our politics than black voters do.


Antjuan Seawright is a Democratic political strategist and the founder and CEO of Blueprint Strategy.


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