The Republican takeover of the Senate signals deep challenges that will gravely impact our families and communities. It’s a reminder that our fight isn’t over just yet– in many ways, this is just the beginning.
As political analysts begin to pore over the data from this election, one thing has already become clear– across the country, Black voters defied expectations and constituted a greater share of the electorate than in 2010 despite continued attempts by the right wing to suppress our votes.
This election, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act, we saw vicious right-wing voter suppression attacks in Georgia, North Carolina, Missouri, and Texas, to name a few. In Georgia, for example, the election process was eerily reminiscent of Jim Crow. As many as 40,000 voter registrations forms from would-be first-time Black voters went unprocessed and the voters able to get the polls were met with long lines and mass confusion.
Unfortunately, while the Right Wing aimed to silence our voices, politicians on the Left seemed to reduce Black voters to tokenized appeals or ignored us entirely. Leading up to the midterms, ColorOfChange.org entreated candidates to speak to the issues that matter to Black voters, particularly Black women, with our #IfTheySpeakForMe campaign. Far too many Democrats shrank from this challenge, choosing to avoid strong leadership and articulating a “politically safe” agenda that failed to inspire the rising new majority. By refusing to speak to their values, candidates alienated the very demographic they should have been courting.
One notable exception can be found in Michigan Senator-elect Gary Peters. His race stands in stark contrast to other Democrats in competitive Senate races because unlike his peers who ran from Obama, Peters embraced the President and marshaled a strong defense for economic policies which help working families. Michigan voters rewarded him with a 13-point victory.
Although Democrats lost the Senate, Tuesday was not without other critical wins in the fight for racial justice. In California, voters passed Proposition 47 which will force the state to change course from four-decades of misguided, incarceration-only policies which have destabilized Black families and drained resources from Black communities.
Massachusetts passed a bill providing for earned sick time that will relieve working folks of having to choose between their job and the health of their families. Additionally, voters in South Dakota, Nebraska, Arkansas and Alaska passing ballot measures to increase the minimum wage — while electing Republicans in statewide races.
The success of these ballot initiatives shows that the problem is not with the message but the messengers. The political will for change exists but this year's candidates demonstrated a troubling lack of political courage. An America where politicians ignore police violence and support a broken criminal justice system, prioritize corporate interests over community values and fight to make it harder for us to vote is intolerable. It is not time to despair but to organize; to demand political leaders who will be responsive to our needs. We have the opportunity here to organize around not only issues but candidates who really do represent the needs of our communities.
Tuesday’s disappointing election results — and the campaigns that preceded them — remind us why the movement for racial justice is — and must be — bigger than a political party. The right wing will attempt to roll back the clock, and it’s up to us to harness the energy we’ve built around the issues we support. This is not a time to put our hopes and dreams in the hands of any future candidate but to build the political and cultural agenda that forces candidates to speak to our needs and understand that they will be held accountable for delivering on them.
Rashad Robinson is the executive director of ColorOfChange.org, the nation's largest online civil rights organization.