Election 2016

Democrats and Civil Rights Groups Urge People of Color to Vote, Citing GOP Racism and Voter Suppression

In key battleground states, a blunt message to vote for change.

Photo Credit: ColorOfChange.org

Democrats and civil rights groups in 2014's battleground states are urging communities of color to turn out in force and vote against Republicans, explicitly saying that some of the GOP’s top candidates have supported the kinds of laws that led to Trayvon Martin’s shooting death, repression in Ferguson, Missouri, and the return of racist voting laws.

The messaging—some of the bluntest in a year setting advertising spending records—is being delivered on radio ads on African-American stations in North Carolina, on flyers left at doorways in Arkansas and Georgia, and is even coming from surrogate speakers for the top candidates. Last weekend, Alma Adams, a Democratic legislator in North Carolina, told a crowd at a rally for U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, “We need to Uncle Thom—Tillis, that is, home,” referring to the Republican U.S. Senate candidate, who, as that state’s Speaker of the House, helped roll back voting rights and loosen gun laws.

North Carolina is not just a state where the outcome of the Senate race could determine whether Republicans will have a congressional majority for President Obama’s final two years. It’s also the state that has seen the most political advertising spending in 2014’s midterm election, according to industry experts. As a result, the brash racism-themed messages are intended to break through already numbing campaign advertising.

In North Carolina, a super PAC started by Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, has been running an ad on black radio accusing Tillis of “making it harder for communities of color to vote” and backing the kind of gun law that “caused the shooting death of Trayvon Martin,” referring to the Florida youth who was killed in a “Stand Your Ground” confrontation with a self-styled vigilante. In Georgia, Democrats are distributing a flyer with a picture from Ferguson of two black children holding signs that say, “Don’t shoot,” and saying that turning out and voting is how “to prevent another Ferguson.”

In Arkansas, the civil rights group, Color of Change, also are circulating leaflets that have images of the Ferguson protests that say, “Enough! Republicans are targeting our kids, silencing our voices and even trying to impeach our president.”

“Our goal was to reach Black dropoff voters in seven states (Illinios, Michigan, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Arkansas, and Louisiana) with tested messages,” said Rashad Robinson, Color of Change’s Executive Director, in an e-mail Thursday. “The messages were both partisan and non-partisan, and were intended to help contextualize some of the issues that the Black community is facing.”

Republicans, needless to say, are complaining that Democrats are "playing the race card" or race baiting in a last-minute attempt to keep their Senate majority and help President Obama. “They have been playing on this nerve in the black community,” Michael Steele, the ex-Republican Party national chairman and an African-American from Ohio, told The New York Times, when asked about the messaging. 

However, Democrats and civil rights groups believe that the Republicans need to be held accountable for numerous laws and policies that hurt minority communities, such as new voting barriers, loosening gun controls, refusing to expand state-run Medicaid programs to help poor households get access to Obamacare, or threatening to impeach Obama.

Many of 2014’s battleground states have large communities of color—whether African-American or Latino—the Washington Post has noted, saying that many of 2014’s highly competitive elections could turn on whether non-white voters cast ballots in numbers that echo presidential years, which, historically, is 5 percent higher than midterm elections.   

“We know that some folks are less likely to vote in the midterms when we don't have the same urgency of a national candidate,” said Color of Change’s Robinson. “But when we engage people in our community on the issues of the last couple of years that have not only shaped our lives up to this moment but will continue to impact us for years to come, we can shed a light on the true power that lies in the ballot box.”     



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Steven Rosenfeld is a senior writing fellow of the Independent Media Institute, where he covers national political issues. He is the author of several books on elections, most recently Democracy Betrayed: How Superdelegates, Redistricting, Party Insiders, and the Electoral College Rigged the 2016 Election (March 2018, Hot Books).