VETTE’S VEGAS VOICE: Beholden not to a party, but our interests
BY YVETTE WILLIAMS
Fifty years ago, when President Lyndon B. Johnson called on Congress to fulfill “America’s promise” to black Americans, voting rights were at the top of the agenda. As Johnson saw it, the franchise “represents the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life. Their cause must be our cause, too.”
He was right. And as America continues to struggle with racism and injustice, we must remain vigilant in preserving the right of every American to cast ballots with dignity and without restriction.
Unfortunately, a U.S. Census Bureau report entitled “Voting and Registration in the Election of November 2014” demonstrates minority voters’ lack of interest in last year’s midterm elections.
Black voter turnout in Nevada was 30.6% in November 2014 — substantially less than the 65.1% in 2008, and 66% in 2012, when Barack Obama was on the ballot.
As the Latino population has grown over the past decade, so too has the number of eligible Latino voters rightfully demanding attention from both major political parties. Still, according to the Pew Research Center, “Hispanics are still a smaller part of the potential electorate than might be expected given their rapid population growth and share of the general population.” This is due in part to immigration status and demographics: 55% of all Hispanics are not eligible to vote due to age or non-citizenship.
Sadly, the high number of incarcerated — including formerly incarcerated, but otherwise eligible — Black and Hispanic voters is also a contributing factor. The Sentencing Project organization estimates that nearly 8% of Blacks cannot vote because of felon disenfranchisement.
In full disclosure, I am a registered Democrat. For years, black voters have expressed growing frustration with a progressive movement (and a Democratic Party) that often ignores the issues important to them. The perception is that black voters are taken for granted, and candidates offer only hollow talking points at election time.
This topic was discussed at the recent National Urban League conference. One panelist, former Obama advisor Van Jones, said, “We are a part, as black voters, of a coalition that we’ve given everything to and can’t ask anything from. … As long as that’s our position, we’re going to continue to be mistreated within our own party.”
Nationally, African-Americans are still struggling with challenges that have lingered for decades. Black unemployment in Nevada continues to rise each month, and now exceeds 15%. White and Latino unemployment stand at 7% and 7.1%, respectively. When will candidates share plans to resolve this job disparity? Are they willing to discuss one?
In an essay for Commentary magazine, conservative journalist Noah Rothman writes, “If Republicans were even modestly successful in appealing to African-Americans, it would make winning elections substantially more difficult for Democratic politicians.” However, the dissatisfaction with the Democratic Party is complicated for Black folks, given the complete lack of trust in the Republican Party and its agenda.
Black voters in Nevada have tremendous clout in the outcome of the 2016 election. Voters should demand answers to important questions, and phone or email candidates seeking to represent them. Given our potential to sway elections, we are positioned to demand a platform and hold our representatives accountable at the ballot box.
Angela Rye, a political strategist and former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus, said it best: “Black folks shouldn’t be beholden to the Democratic Party. They should be beholden to their interests.”
Yvette Williams is founder of the Clark County Black Caucus. Learn more at www.YvetteBWilliams.com and CCBlackCaucus.com. Follow her on Twitter @YvetteBWilliams and send email to ClarkCountyBlackCaucus@gmail.com.