Black People Risked Their Lives to Get Biden Elected. Here's What He Owes Us

A Black Lives Matter sign outside next to an American flag is seen at a polling station in the King Arts Complex on November 3, 2020 in Columbus, Ohio.
A Black Lives Matter sign outside next to an American flag is seen at a polling station in the King Arts Complex on November 3, 2020 in Columbus, Ohio.
Photo: Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images (Getty Images)

Senators-elect Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff are seen as manifestations of the New South, but it was Black women like LaTosha Brown who risked their lives mobilizing enough Black people in Georgia to make it happen. Their victories tilted the balance of power to Joe Biden, whose victory in the state and nationally similarly came from the sweat of Black female organizing.

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For all of the platitudes Black women hear of their labor, few of them will tell you there is any magic involved. Brown was exhausted when she spoke to The Root on Wednesday night about the two Georgia Senate wins and the insurrection taking place in Washington, D.C.

Most people see her on social media organizing or on television talking about her work. Offline and away from the cameras, Brown was suffering. She caught COVID-19 while on the campaign trail, lost thousands of dollars for speaking gigs, and her consulting business suffered as she was organizing in small towns across the South. The death threats were so constant and violent that Brown had to hire security at her home and on the trail. Places where she and her colleagues stayed burned down after they left.

Her hope is that Biden matches her sacrifices with as much of his political capital on strengthening voter rights and COVID-19 relief that specifically targets Black Americans.

“We need to see an aggressive economic package that is going to help those who are working class and poor people in this country,” she said. “Many folks have been pushed into poverty, not because they’re not working, but because many of the safety nets have been unraveled. So we have to right-size that. One way of doing that is raising wages. Another way of doing that is expanding access to affordable housing, HUD, housing vouchers and economic programs that are not just band-aides.”

White supremacists stormed the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday in an attempted coup, showing there is little negotiating with the Republicans who encouraged their actions. With Democrats set to hold a hair-thin majority in Congress and roughly two years to pass their policy ideas and nominations before the 2022 midterms, Black voters and organizers are hoping the president-elect bypasses the more conciliatory style of his former boss, Barack Obama. From a staffing standpoint, he and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ picks are arguably some of the most diverse in White House history.

Organizers and political observers who have spoken to The Root have said his Department of Justice should take a more assertive role in prosecuting police brutality and white supremacist groups, which the FBI has said is America’s top national security threat. Biden and pretty much most Democrats do not support defunding the police, but activists do want tougher penalties for abusive cops. A positive sign that civil rights will be prioritized is his nomination of Kristen Clarke as assistant attorney of civil rights at the Department of Justice, even as Biden’s attorney general pick of Merrick Garland was met with a sea of eye rolls.

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Central to any pandemic recovery is the need to make access to COVID-19 aid easier for small Black businesses. Melina Abdullah, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter in Los Angeles, said the administration should center Black healthcare needs, particularly those who are weary of the vaccine.

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Harris will be an equally important figure in the administration because of her stature and legislative history calling for better treatment of Black women navigating the healthcare system and going after big businesses. Biden will be a much better president if Harris is a powerful and assertive VP, she added.

The question, Abdullah said, is which Kamala Harris will Black people get.

“There’s her willingness to go after banks around predatory lending practices,” she said. “She created this open justice desktop, which helped to track police killings in California when she was attorney general here. But then there is also her refusal to really push back on police violence. She has not been as vocal as she needs to be. So there’s this emotional piece where I also want to celebrate Kamala Harris.

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“And I’m saying this as a Black woman, who’s also from Oakland, a Bison graduate of Howard University, and an AKA. But we have to make sure that when Kamala Harris takes office as vice president, that she’s not pulled by the Democratic Party and the powers that be to endorse a kind of a liberal brand of reform that neglects that this moment should be a moment of transformation. She has a choice to make. Is she going to carry the water or is she going to say, ‘No, we need to push it further.’ Remember the Kamala Harris who went off on Joe Biden about Black colleges? That’s the Kamala Harris we need.”

Barack Obama made it clear that just because he was America’s first Black president that he wasn’t going to create a Black agenda. He is often given a pass for not leading with his Blackness because Obama could not get away with centering Black folks in ways white presidents can. An unknown for Biden is whether or not his decades of time in Congress has made him too friendly with the Lindsey Grahams and Mitch McConnells of the world to force their hands. GOP leadership held up much of Obama’s legislative policies, just as they’ve refused to bring many of the Democrats’ bills up for votes.

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House Majority Whip James Clyburn, who pretty much won the Democratic primary for Biden by handing him South Carolina and the Black vote, won’t likely allow the president-elect to go without returning the favor. Christina Greer, associate professor of Fordham University, said it is fine that Biden works across the aisle, but he needs to always be reminded of who brought him to the dance.

“This is a man who has [been in Congress] for almost 50 years,” Greer said of Biden. “These are people that he believes he trusts and knows, but he’s got blinders. Hopefully people like [former Congressional Black Caucus Chair and Rep.] Cedric Richmond, and other Black folks that he trusts can help him see that he’s got to walk and chew gum at the same time.”

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Richmond is resigning his House seat to join the Biden administration as a senior adviser.

Despite white supremacists and Republicans’ futile efforts to slow the certification of the Electoral College on Wednesday night, Biden will be sworn in as president Jan. 20. In his statement responding to the mob attack in Washington, D.C., he called for the white mob violence to stop and that their actions do not reflect American values. Practically, any activist who has organized to get Black people to the polls will tell you the opposite. For all of the tone-deaf shock white commentators—and Van Jones—expressed over Wednesday’s events, they weren’t the most violent in recent memory. They don’t even crack the top 10. Though, it is emblematic of the types of resistance Biden is expected to face when he assumes office.

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Brown, who says her national organizing has been met with death threats and suspicious packages addressed from Russia, wants Biden’s energy for pushing a Black agenda to match the personal sacrifice of activists who helped him win.

“We literally put our lives in danger,” she said. “I have put everything on the line. I’ve used my skills, my talent, my resources, my time and my energy just as thousands of other men and women did to really be able to provide the best possible circumstances for him to govern in a way that literally would be in a line with an agenda that will support our community. I am hoping that he understands what a great sacrifice this has been.”

Terrell Jermaine Starr is a senior reporter at The Root. He is currently writing a book proposal that analyzes US-Russia relations from a black perspective.

DISCUSSION

babylonsystem
Babylon System

I didn’t vote for Biden, I voted anti-Trump.

I am tired of hearing his “time to heal as a nation” speech.

Those rabid, racist creatures from the Capitol don’t need healing, they need to be put down.