Workers Center for Racial Justice (WCRJ), the Center for Racial and Gender Equity (CRGE), and Racial Justice PAC (RJPAC) joined together to host Black Voices, Black Votes: 2020 Community Caucus. This forum served as a platform to help black voters make an informed decision ahead of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary election.
Joi Wells, Director of WCRJ and CRGE, shared information on the participating organizations. “The Workers Center for Racial Justice is a grassroots black liberation organization focusing on black workers and their families to eliminate high rates of unemployment, underemployment, and over criminalization among black folks.” WCRJ will achieve this through organizing, education, and advocacy. Wells continued, “The Center for Racial and Gender Equity and Racial Justice PAC run grassroots policies and electoral campaigns, engaging voters of color and building black women’s leadership.” WCRJ promotes mobilization of black voters but does not explicitly endorse candidates.
The black community faces several issues when it comes to protecting voters’ rights. Voter suppression continues to be a threat in states like Georgia, Ohio, and Wisconsin, where over one million black people were eliminated from the voter rolls. CRGE Leader Antonio Lightfoot said of the black vote, “We have an unprecedented chance to harness that power. We [can] uphold the status quo, or we can start a new path toward racial justice, opportunity, and liberation.”
Ethen Viets-VanLear, another CRGE Leader, conducted an interactive community-building exercise to warm up the crowd and generate energy. The purpose was to emphasize the importance of being on one accord despite differences.
CRGE Leaders provided a critical analysis of the public records and platforms of the Democratic presidential candidates in terms of social justice. During this segment, four key issues were addressed: racial justice reform, police accountability, workers’ rights, and economic security programs. Results of the analysis show that most candidates have failed to advance or layout a solid plan for racial equity in law enforcement, judicial, and prison systems. Joi Wells addressed the controversy surrounding the 1994 Crime Bill. After its passing, the U.S. prison population more than quadrupled, affecting black and brown people more than any other group. This led to wealth, employment, education, and health disparities. Candidates are urged to support the elimination of mandatory minimum sentencing, cash bail, and the three-strike law.
Police accountability continues to be a significant concern. There is an urgent call to change policies that impact racialized police harassment, corruption, and police violence.
When it comes to workers’ rights, Brent Hamlet stated, “Decades of open-market policy, free trade, and deregulation have led to the evaporation of the middle class, the erosion of union power, diminished workplace protections, and wage stagnation. These adverse conditions account for today’s unprecedented national wealth gap between whites and black people.”
Based on the analysis, economic security remains at risk due to a steady decline in black homeownership, gentrification, lack of employment opportunities, and a decrease in public assistance, among other issues. Factors that would advance economic security for black Americans include universal healthcare, affordable childcare, an increase in the living wage, and the expansion of social programs.
At the close of the analytical session, participants had the opportunity to form a black voter caucus. The process involved breaking up into teams to evaluate each candidate’s stance on social justice issues further. Each team representative presented the results to the audience. Afterward, audience members were allowed to ask questions and voice their opinions. Former Black Panther Sharon Butler stated, “We have to be able to mobilize and take care of our communities in each city and each state. The reason the Black Panthers were annihilated the way they were, was because they started mobilizing communities to be self-sufficient. This is all about capitalism and the fear of losing power.”
The goal of the forum was to unify black voters whose input will play a vital role in helping CRGE and RJPAC choose a viable candidate. These organizations plan to launch a massive field campaign involving black voters across the region to help push forward their vision of the future.
For more information on the work of these organizations, visit https://www.facebook.com/center4racialjustice/ or call (312) 361-1161.
Donna Montgomery, Contributing Writer