Recently, the Black Futures Lab, a national advocacy group devoted to helping build black political power, conducted a census of more than 30,000 respondents and more than 30 black-led grassroots organizations.
It was purportedly the largest survey of black folks in the United States since Reconstruction more than 150 years ago.
Black Futures Lab conducted the census online after recruiting folks in black businesses, churches, libraries, and barber shops. It partnered with PushBlack and Color of Change to ensure a broad range of respondents, including people who are homeless, incarcerated, LBGTQ, immigrants, mixed-raced folks, and yes, black Republicans and conservatives.
The results were presented in a report titled, “More Black than Blue: Politics and Power in the 2019 Black Census.” It focused on economic and criminal justice issues, with a spotlight on how the respondents are engaged in the electoral process.
Nearly three-quarters of the respondents — 73 percent — said they voted in 2016. Forty percent were engaged as donors, volunteers or canvassers. In 2018, the census found, nearly 86 percent of respondents were registered to vote, about 20 points higher than for black adults nationally.
Yet despite this high level of engagement, 52 percent of respondents said they believed politicians do not care about black people, and another 35 percent think politicians only care a little. The census organizers say many blacks feel the candidates’ efforts to connect with black voters are superficial and opportunistic.
“The Black Census shows that the black electorate want policies that improve our lives, not pandering photo ops at black institutions,” Alicia Garza of the Black Futures Lab said in a statement. She elaborated on this theme in an op-ed published in The New York Times.
“During election season, I always cringe when I see candidates eating fried chicken next to a bottle of hot sauce in Harlem or taking staged photos with black leaders,” Garza wrote. “These shallow symbolic gestures are not a substitute for meaningful engagement with black voters. And candidates should know that we see right through them.”
So, if not photo ops, what do black voters want?
The census found that the biggest perceived economic problem among black voters, flagged by 90 percent of respondents, was low wages. There was strong support (85 percent) for raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Large majorities also wanted to make “college affordable for any person who wants to attend,” “consider it the government’s role to provide health care for all Americans,” and agreed that “government should provide adequate housing.”
There was also broad support for raising taxes on folks making $250,000 or more annually.
The part of the census devoted to criminal justice was also eye-opening. It found that the vast majority of respondents see the excessive use of force by police as problems in the black community. On the other hand, just 7 percent of respondents agreed with the statement, “I don’t think the relationship between the police and black people in my community can improve.”
In conclusion, the report said the survey “reveals a high level of agreement about the problems confronting black communities and the solutions required to address them. … If political leaders are ready to listen to the issues and concerns of Black Census respondents, the community is ready to mobilize.”
As a black lesbian social justice advocate, recently retired and collecting Social Security benefits, with two children in college and one two years away, I want to thank the Black Futures Lab, PushBlack and Color of Change for giving us a voice as the census parallels my experience in electoral politics and life. I am part of the community and stand ready to mobilize for 2020.
Kiki Monifa of Oakland, California, is editor-in-chief of BlackHistoryEveryday.com. This column was produced for the Progressive Media Project, which is run by The Progressive magazine, and distributed by Tribune News Service.