Manifesto: TheGrio presents a list of demands to hold candidates accountable before and after the midterm elections

The time to act is right now.

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When most of the people in power don’t look like you, it’s hard to relate sometimes, let alone believe, that change is possible. It’s important to remember though that this is exactly what the powerful count on: you not showing up. All the more reason to prove them wrong.

In about a month, Americans will once again head to the voting booth. This isn’t a Presidential election year, but the 2018 midterm elections could very well be the most pivotal election of our lifetime. We, the people, have to not only participate in the electoral process, but also educate ourselves about the issues and demand that those seeking to represent us provide more than just lip service.

My team and I at theGrio have put together our agenda for the 2018 midterms to remind you why we must vote and why those votes have got to count. This is our manifesto; our decree to hold candidates accountable and let them know our concerns, our mandate and the reasons why supporting individuals who reflect these interests with both our manpower and dollars is pivotal.

Here’s a look at the issues that matter to us most. #BlackVoterPower

Gun Violence/Gun Reform

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Years before the tragedy in Parkland, Florida, many groups, often led by Black women and young Black teens, were pushing for stricter gun legislation, gun buyback programs, universal background checks, an assault weapons ban and more.  Why? We are the ones suffering the most from gun violence.

According to the CDC’s Wide-ranging Online Data for Epidemiologic Research (WONDER) database, Black men experienced 27 more firearm homicides per 100,000 people than white men between 2008 and 2016. Anyone who seeks our vote has got to back measures like these and also support initiatives like after-school programs/activities that keep young people off the streets.

In addition to reform measures, we are calling on candidates to support grassroots organizations that are already on the ground doing everything from intervention to providing recreational alternatives and counseling for young people.  If someone wants our vote, s/he must treat gun violence as an immediate national crisis.

 

Criminal Justice Reform

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The systemic problem of mass incarceration has many layers: who gets profiled and stopped to who receives a ticket/fine. We can’t forget about who gets arrested, who gets brutalized (and even killed at the hands of the state), who has access/money for an attorney, who receives a harsh sentence and so much more. Blacks are incarcerated at more than five times the rate of whites. Black Americans are also more than twice as likely as whites to be killed by police.

We will only back politicians who support measures like eliminating bail requirements, requiring all police officers to wear body cams, doing away with mandatory sentencing minimums, as well as pushing the federal government to create a national database of victims of police brutality (and the officers who kill them), honor consent decrees that were reached with police departments around the country, requiring outside independent prosecutors for police-involved shootings and other national reforms.  We also need our elected officials to reinstate voting rights for released prisoners who have paid their debt to society and need to have their voices restored.

 

Voting Rights/Voter Suppression

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In 2013, the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. Almost immediately, many states enacted tough new voting requirements, including measures like voter ID laws that suppress the votes of people of color, the poor, the elderly and college students.  There are 32 states that now have some form of voter ID laws in place.

Then there’s redistricting (redrawing district boundaries) and gerrymandering (manipulating boundaries to favor a political party) which have both disenfranchised voters.  A panel of federal judges recently ruled that North Carolina’s current congressional map can be used in the midterm elections even though they previously ruled that the map was drawn to favor Republicans. The Justice Department also recently demanded that millions of North Carolina voter records be turned over to immigration authorities in what many call a clear attempt at intimidation.

If any politician wants our vote, s/he must commit to pushing back against voter ID laws and other harsh legislation, fighting against redistricting and gerrymandering attempts, protecting the Voting Rights Act and pushing for protections for vulnerable communities. For the states where there are already voter ID laws in place, we need organizations and funding to ensure that people obtain the proper identification and are able to participate in the electoral process.

Bottom line: If you can’t promise to protect our right to vote, you will not be getting our vote.

Economic Parity

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Pulling yourself up by your bootstraps is great – as long as you have boots. According to the Pew Research Center, Blacks in the U.S. earned just 75 percent as much as whites in median hourly earnings in 2015. And the median wealth for Black families in 2016 was just $17,600 compared to $171,000 for white families according to the Center for American Progress.  

At the same time, the Black-white wage gap has only increased.  For example, in 1979, Black men earned about 80 percent of what white men earned; in 2016, it slipped to about 70 percent.  And when it comes to who gets a job, hiring discrimination against Blacks hasn’t changed in the past 25 years according to a review of multiple studies by researchers at Northwestern, Harvard and the Institute of Social Research.  

Donald Trump loves to tout “record low Black unemployment” numbers, but what he conveniently leaves out is the fact that Black unemployment is still nearly double that of white unemployment. The official numbers also don’t include all those who have stopped looking for work or fallen off the radar nor does it include those who are incarcerated.

There is also a documented history of systemic financial racism in this country that has negatively impacted our ability to obtain mortgages and loans.  Whether it was the Department of Veteran Affairs disproportionately helping white men purchase homes and obtain an education after World War II, redlining, or the systemic targeting of people of color with subprime loans, economic discrimination has impacted generations of Americans who are still trying to play catch up.

We call on candidates to present a concrete jobs plan that specifically addresses us.  One that invests in our neighborhoods, provides internships and training for our students and recruits from our communities. And, we will only vote for those who support a minimum wage increase of $15/hr.

We need banks to give us (non-predatory) loans to buy homes, start businesses and more. We seek leaders who have innovative ideas to ensure that we earn the same wage, and that protections like affirmative action remain in place regardless of what the current federal government may want to do.  

Whether it’s a program that provides $500/month to underprivileged households, or microloans that give the poor an opportunity to get out of poverty, we need bold, fresh ideas. The stakes are just too high.

 

Health Care

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The United States ranks last in life expectancy for men and second to last for women among the 17 wealthiest nations. A major contributor to these unfortunate stats is the reality of inadequate health care for people of color and the poor. In fact, Blacks and Latinos experience 30-40 percent poorer health outcomes than whites, according to a report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.  

A study by the Commonwealth Fund found that health care disparities among Blacks and Latinos compared to whites narrowed because of the Affordable Care Act, enacted by President Obama. As the Trump administration removes the individual mandate and takes other steps to chip away at the ACA, our communities will be most significantly impacted.

Any politician who wants our vote must support health care reform where people of color and marginalized groups have access to quality doctors, health care plans for physical and mental health needs and low-cost prescription drugs. Whether it’s something like Medicare for all, or even universal health care, candidates must present viable plans so that we are no longer last in any category of health care.

 

Education/College Affordability

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Student loan debt now exceeds both credit card debt and auto loans at $1.5 trillion. When it comes to the Black community, unsurprisingly, the situation is even more dire.

Because of systemic barriers, economic and social disparity and a slew of other reasons, Black Americans are more likely to take out student loans than their white peers, and more likely to default, setting up a vicious cycle. According to the Department of Education, almost half of all Black borrowers defaulted on their loans, compared to 20 percent of white students.

Imagine, these numbers are for the Black students who actually make it to college. According to the Department of Education, only 76 percent of Black high school students graduate on time. Black and Latino students are more underrepresented at the nation’s top colleges and universities than they were 35 years ago according to a New York Times analysis.

Why is higher education off limits for so many in our community?  The answer is simple: we aren’t starting out on equal footing. According to the National Equity Atlas, most city-based Black and Latino students attend schools where at least 75 percent of all students qualify as poor or low-income. When these students are in underfunded schools with inadequate curriculums, lack of textbooks and basic supplies, overcrowded classrooms and teachers that are paying for necessities out of their own pockets, how can we possibly expect these brilliant young Black minds to excel to the next level?  

We call on all candidates to support greater funding for our schools, as well as more after-school and college prep programs. Simultaneously, any candidate seeking our support must ensure that the student loan protections that were put in place under the Obama administration must be reinstated and protected.  

 

Climate Change

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People used to joke about global warming and the impact that climate change is having on the planet. No one’s laughing now. People of color, the poor, children and the elderly are suffering the most from it’s effects. Almost eight out of 10 Black Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-burning plant; Blacks are three times more likely to die of airborne pollution and Black children suffer twice the levels of asthma with 10 times the level of asthmatic deaths.  

Meanwhile the Environmental Protection Agency under the Trump administration has been rolling back all kinds of protections and has been eliminating regulations on polluters. This will negatively impact our communities and our children for generations to come.

We will only support candidates who have a clear platform on reducing carbon emissions, increasing regulations on polluters, establishing stronger penalties for breaking regulations, creating greater distances between environmental pollutants and residences, as well as plans that implement more parks and outdoor spaces in our communities, health centers and adequate health care overall to combat things like asthma and other illnesses.

 

LGBTQIA Rights

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LGBTQIA individuals are the most likely targets of hate crimes in America according to the FBI’s own stats.  For Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer/questioning, intersex and asexual/allied people, the fear of being a victim of a hate crime is significantly increased.  Many of these victims and the crimes against them don’t receive media attention and often go unresolved. Black trans people also face severe rates of poverty, with 34 percent living in extreme poverty compared to just 9 percent of non-trans Blacks according to the Human Rights Campaign.  The number of trans homicides has also significantly increased, and many of those cases also remain unresolved.

We call on candidates to renew protections for the community—including increased federal protections— as well as increasing the number of states that have laws that specifically protect LGBTQIA people. We need representatives that are not only inclusive in rhetoric, but also committed to supporting policies that provide care, funding and assistance for everyone from Black trans folks to young people finding their way who are often forced to leave their homes because of how they identify.  We need elected officials to push for tougher hate crime laws and push for such laws to be applied in situations when appropriate.

Cuts to Social Programs/Safety Net

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While rich people get tax cuts, the poor get cuts to social programs and the safety net. Trump’s budget proposals included deep cuts for Medicaid and Medicare, as well as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Section 8 housing and more. There are budget cuts to governmental agencies like the Labor Department and the EPA which directly impact Black and Brown folks first.

For example, HUD Secretary Ben Carson’s “housing plan” would raise rents on the poor by 20 percent in the country’s largest metropolitan areas. In general, this administration’s policies and budgets have called for massive cuts to all kinds of domestic programs that benefit communities of color and the poor including things like food stamps, housing subsidies, student loans and more.

As Tupac once accurately stated: they got money for war, but can’t feed the poor.

Those seeking to represent us must support the social safety net and all of the programs that help individuals and families who are struggling just to survive. Food stamps, SNAP benefits (that provide nutrition assistance to millions – including 1 in 4 children), Section 8 housing and so much more are critical to helping the most underserved communities in the country. If anyone wants our vote, they need to back these programs and present new ones that can help the disenfranchised across this nation.

We’ve achieved tremendous progress in this country; people of color have broken down all kinds of barriers, there’s an increase in mainstream representation, technology has leveled the playing field a bit and we have more outlets to voice our views than perhaps ever before. At the same time, there’s an exponential increase in hate crimes, environmental protections and federal regulations are being stripped away, the social safety net hangs in the balance and everything from affirmative action to voting rights is in jeopardy.

The 2018 midterms are right around the corner, and what we do – or don’t do – will have an impact for years to come.  If we don’t participate, then how can we complain later? If we don’t hold candidates accountable, then nobody will. It’s our communities, our lives and our future on the line.

The question now is, what are you going to do about it?


Amy Dubois Barnett is the Chief Content Officer of theGrio and EVP, Digital for Entertainment Studios Global Media, one of the largest independent producers and distributors of film and television.

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