By James Rucker–We started ColorOfChange.org after Hurricane Katrina because we believed that Black America couldn’t rely on existing organizations, leaders, or a political party to deliver the change needed to protect and uplift our communities.
Nevertheless, when it comes time to vote, Black Americans consistently vote for Democrats, and those of us who showed up in last Tuesday’s election did so again in overwhelming numbers. But many of us did not show up — Black voters were 13% of the overall electorate in 2008 but were only 10% this year. While some of this can be ascribed to the traditional drop-off in midterm elections, we think there is a much larger lesson to be learned, and we hope the Democrats and President Obama are listening.
Put simply: over the past two years neither the President nor the Democratic Party have delivered the level of change we were promised and need. The conditions that caused us to start ColorOfChange — racial inequality and a lack of collective Black political power — are largely the same conditions that exist now.
Black Americans still overwhelmingly support the President and want him to succeed. And we’re angered by the often subtle, yet clear race-based attacks on the President. But we can’t let that get in the way of evaluating the President based on his performance.
What we know is that the policies of President Obama’s administration are falling short of delivering on the hope and change that brought us out to vote two years ago. Black unemployment is at 16%, twice the national average. For young Black men, it’s above 40%. Black home ownership has been devastated by the foreclosure crisis. Yet, the administration has insisted on a bi-partisan approach to governing that has been soft on the banks and incredibly timid when it comes to creating jobs. The administration has insisted on bringing along Republicans — politicians from a party that condones the hurling of racist and disrespectful slurs at the President, refuses to hold its own accountable, and has made very clear that it has had no intention of truly working with the President and his party. In our view, you can’t negotiate in good faith with people like that — people who repeatedly demonstrate that their goal is to attack everything you do and deny you anything you can claim as an accomplishment.
But this is not only or even mostly about the President and his administration. It’s largely about the fact that corporate interests have for decades dominated a large part of the Democratic party. For this reason, many Democrats have cowered from truly standing up and fighting for what they say they believe in, for fear of losing campaign contributions or becoming a target of powerful, wealthy corporations and industries. Those who have stood strong often see no support from the national party in their efforts to push for change, and they’re often left to fend for themselves come election time.
As a candidate, Barack Obama talked about “changing business as usual” in Washington. The reality is that not much has changed. Rather than truly challenging the entrenched corporate interests that have dominated our politics for so long, President Obama has often tried to negotiate and work with them. During the campaign, Obama often said that change “comes from the bottom up” — but once in office, he hasn’t, in any major way, invited ordinary people to pressure the political system, or engaged them in the process of creating change. The movement built around getting Obama elected was largely ignored after he took office. The President’s greatest asset — his millions of supporters — were basically abandoned and implicitly told “we got this,” when that simply wasn’t the case.
Moving forward, Republicans are likely to pose even more of an obstacle to the changes Democrats promised, and many in the media are arguing that the only way forward for Democrats is to move to the right, chart an even tamer course, and compromise further with Republicans and the large corporate interests they represent. We believe the truth is exactly the opposite. Black Americans and everyone else who turned out in 2008 looking for change need to see Democrats fighting harder to deliver that change and taking true leadership to engage all of us in helping create that change. It’s what Democrats need to do if they want our votes in the future, and it’s the right thing to do if they really want to move this country forward.
In the meantime, regardless of what Democrats do, we need to continue to mobilize within own communities to demand the changes we need from Congress and the White House — supporting them when they try to do the right thing, and holding them accountable when they don’t. It won’t be easy, and we won’t always win — but we know from experience that when we act together, we can create real change that affects all of our lives.
James Rucker is the executive director of ColorOfChange.org, an online community of more than 700,000 dedicated to amplifying the political voice of Black America.