barack obama

Democrats Need to Engage African American Voters to Win 2018 Elections

Chokwe Lumumba
Chokwe Lumumba

There are a lot of people, mainly Democrats, fantasizing about what could happen in 2018.  And you can’t blame them.  Especially after Doug Jones’ win in Alabama and the other big victories in Virginia and New Jersey.  So let’s give this one to the Democrats for now.  This doesn’t mean that their work is done, but it’s certainly a strong indicator that people want change.  What’s interesting about these wins is that they all have one thing in common – strong African American turnout during these elections. The more African Americans that go out to vote will certainly help out the Democratic victories in 2018.  Democrats should really take a page out of the campaign playbook of two, young progressive mayors in the deep south.  Their campaigns can act as a blueprint for effective engagement among African American voters.

If you haven’t heard of them, they are – Chokwe Lumumba, and Randall Woodfin.  Lumumba is a self-described revolutionary mayor and was recently elected to Mississippi’s largest city – Jackson.  Randall Woodfin became the youngest mayor in the history of Birmingham by campaigning on aggressive blight elimination and a comprehensive public safety plan that allowed him to crack the code on getting African Americans to come out, who vote infrequently.  There were approximately 11,000 African American voters that had never voted in a municipal election.

Randall Woodfin
Randall Woodfin

What do these two campaigns have to do with the Democrats in 2018?  Well, both campaigns resembled the Obama coalition in high-population areas where Democrats must run up the score in order to win statewide races.  The Obama coalition is making a come back in places like Birmingham and Jackson, and it’s being led by young, African American politicians.  So what is the playbook that the Democrats need for 2018?

It starts with having candidates like Woodfin and Lumumba.  You need young, progressive candidates of color like Stacey Abrams, Andrew Gillum, Ian Conyers and Jermaine Reed. Each brings with them personal narratives that can establish credibility with millennials and voters of color, tapping into the excitement of the progressive base benefiting Democrats up and down the ballot.  It always amazes me when politicians disregard young people, women, and people of color.  It means that they’re missing out on an incredible amount of potential votes.  Look at what happened with Doug Jones.  It is believed that African American, female voters won him the election.  And since there are only two parties, not casting your vote is no longer an option.

Stacey Abrams
Stacey Abrams

This isn’t to say that you can simply get African Americans to support the Democrats.  The strategy has to include  African Americans in a real way.  This playbook must also prioritize African American engagement from start to finish of the campaign. This means engaging African voters around a real policy agenda that is responsive to their needs. For example, Woodfin promoted a comprehensive policy platform during the campaign that spoke directly to the concerns of African American voters. Moreover, hiring the right campaign strategists who actually know African American voters and understand how to craft and deliver a message that resonates is key.

Lastly, Democrats have to govern in a way that prioritizes African American voters.  These campaigns need to employ African Americans, otherwise, how will you know what these communities are looking for?  The Democrats should also use trusted African American media outlets and journalists.  But the message has to be directed appropriately.  You can’t send a message out to these media outlets that marginalize African Americans or disregards concerns from this community.  Long gone are the days of assuming that African Americans will turn out to vote on election day, only to be forgotten about afterward.  The Democrats will get support from the African American community when they truly start to show how they are taking their needs are being taken into consideration.

Andrew Gillum
Andrew Gillum

The 2018 elections are there for the taking, Democrats, but it will require a dramatic shift from the traditional Democratic playbook of taking African American voters for granted.  Alabama is leading the way. And a new generation of young, African American politicians are leading the way. It is time for the Democratic party to listen.

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