'I didn’t even like voting for you': Black West Virginia voters vow to hold Manchin accountable

'I didn’t even like voting for you': Black West Virginia voters vow to hold Manchin accountable
WASHINGTON, D.C. – TODAY, Tuesday, April 5th, 2016 at 10:30am in S-120 in the Capitol Building, Senators Charles E. Schumer, Bill Nelson, Amy Klobuchar, Joe Manchin and Martin Heinrich will be joined by the Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson to announce a new proposal to strengthen U.S. airport security, Credit: Senate Democrats https://www.flickr.com/photos/sdmc/26229171156

With a state population that is only 3.6% Black and has a Republican senator and a watered-down Democratic senator in Joe Manchin, it's no wonder Black voters in West Virginia feel overlooked. They are, The Washington Post reported. "Black West Virginians feel dismissed and written off," Post writer Clyde McGrady penned. "They are well aware of how their fellow Americans view them: unsophisticated, uneducated residents of a (Donald) Trump-country backwater.

"They believe they've been forgotten by Democrats in their state, forgotten by the national party and ignored by the political media, which typically sees West Virginia as a bunch of white conservatives." So marching hand-in-hand with white West Virginians, they took their concerns to Manchin directly, or at least they tried to.

The topics central to their agenda were the senator's repeated opposition to filibuster reform and the For the People Act, a voting bill aimed at reigning in legislation passed across the country by Republican-led legislatures making it more difficult to vote. A filibuster is an operational instrument requiring 60 votes instead of a simple majority to stall or block a vote. Senate Republicans have used it to delay civil rights legislation for decades. Manchin accused Democrats of trying "to demonize the filibuster and conveniently ignore how it has been critical to protecting the rights of Democrats in the past."

He wrote in an op-ed for his hometown paper, the Charleston Gazette-Mail:

"As a reminder, just four short years ago, in 2017 when Republicans held control of the White House and Congress, President Donald Trump was publicly urging Senate Republicans to eliminate the filibuster. Then, it was Senate Democrats who were proudly defending the filibuster. Thirty-three Senate Democrats penned a letter to Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. and Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., warning of the perils of eliminating the filibuster.

It has been said by much wiser people than me that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Well, what I've seen during my time in Washington is that every party in power will always want to exercise absolute power, absolutely. Our founders were wise to see the temptation of absolute power and built in specific checks and balances to force compromise that serves to preserve our fragile democracy."

When his constituents marched to his office to call him out on his views, specifically on how they misrepresented their best interest, Manchin was in D.C. "His staff greeted marchers outside to visit with them and listen to their concerns," Sam Runyon, Manchin's communications director, said in a statement the Post obtained. "In a large group situation, comment cards ensure everyone has the opportunity to thoroughly express their thoughts," Runyon added. "As always, his staff shared the concerns of the marchers with Senator Manchin."

Rev. David Fryson interpreted the response as "a little contrived," as if Manchin's team was trying to subdue "the passion and the power that we had." "I think that many times we didn't vet him the way that we should have," Fryson told the Post. "As you look back now over the course of his public life, you realize that he kind of leans towards giving the African American community the glad hand, but at the same time, with a wink and a nod, be willing to facilitate things that are against us."

Jennifer Wells is a senior organizer with a local branch of the Community Change Action, a national organization working to empower marginalized voters. She told The Washington Post: "In the time that I've been here in West Virginia, this is the angriest that I felt the energy around him, and the fact that, 'You know what, I didn't even like voting for you.' That's just what I've heard on the street." Wells told the newspaper she's from New Orleans but ended up in West Virginia when Manchin, then governor, welcomed those fleeing Hurricane Katrina. During her time in West Virginia, she learned the state had produced noted civil rights leaders like Memphis Tennessee Garrison, who focused on Black educators during Jim Crow years, and minister Leon Sullivan who advocated for upward mobility through job training for Black people. Wells, however, said the state's Black population just is not taken seriously politically.

"I would walk into rooms, rooms with Black people from other parts of the country, and they'd ask who you are and where you're from, and I would say West Virginia, and people would start laughing," she told The Washington Post. "And they're like, 'Oh, you must be one of the two people that live in the state.' " She later added: "By no means do I think that the Black folks in Appalachia, the Black folks in West Virginia, are going to be able to win everything they want just by themselves. It has to be multi­racial, but each part of the coalition has to feel their voice and their power. And I think that's what's been missing."

Jean Evansmore, 80, of West Virginia, was cited during the Women's Moral Monday March on Washington, which the new Poor People's Campaign organized outside of the Supreme Court last month, according to The Washington Post. There, Evansmore, the granddaughter of a coal miner who went to union meetings weekly, called for an end to the filibuster to protect voting rights. Charly Carter, the executive director of the advocacy group the Democracy Initiative, was arrested and cited at the march. At one point, she asked Evansmore: "So, what are we going to do about Joe Manchin?" Her response was to keep fighting, keep protesting as long as she lived.

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