While that colloquialism may seem innocuous to many people, in Black communities across America, those two words are both a threat and a promise. It is the most acceptable answer to the question “What are you gonna do about it?” and is roughly translated as: “I can show you better than I can tell you!”
As it relates to politics, there wasn’t a lot that Black America could do historically to hold politicians from both parties’ feet to the fire when they reneged on promises made during performative visits to barbershops and church services. For most of American history, the Republican Party had a stranglehold on the Black vote. After racist white southerners defected to the Republican Party between 1948 and the early ’70s, the Democratic Party became the party of Black America.
And in exchange for at least 83 percent of the African American vote in every presidential election since 1980, the Democratic Party has given Black people...Well, not much.
To be clear, the Democratic Party has been marginally better for Black America than the GOP. But the party’s leadership has continued to reflect the status quo of the old, white male power structure and responded to any talk of criminal justice reform, reparations, social justice and progressive ideas by asking: “What are you gonna do about it? Are you saying you’re gonna vote for the party that supports voter suppression, states’ rights and white supremacy? Isn’t that how we got here in the first place?”
For years, activists and advocates have argued that America’s two major parties will never offer Black America anything more than lip service and off-beat clapping to Black choirs during campaign season unless Black voters form a separate political collective that represents the specific interests of Black communities. And now, a group of young politicos, organizers and community leaders are doing just that.
Our Black Party is a “political home for those who are fiercely committed to improving the lives of Black people across this country and demanding meaningful political action that prioritizes the needs of Black people.” According to the group’s website, the party exists to “advance a political agenda that addresses the needs of Black people.”
“We have to recognize the power that we have,” explained Dr. Wes Bellamy, who served as vice mayor of Charlottesville, Va., and chairs the political science department at Virginia State University. “ I think that’s something that some of us question. When you hear things like: ‘Why start a party now? You’re going to mess up the presidential election,’ I don’t think people always understand the leverage that we already have. The fact of the matter is that if we—as a collective group of Black folks and our allies—can say that centering the needs, the wants and desires of Black folk is that can mess up a presidential election, that shows the collective power and leverage that we already have.”
Along with Hyattsville, Md., Mayor Candace Hollingsworth, Bellamy is one of the organizers of Our Black Party, which is based on the concept that “we own our votes.” Their goal is to build a network of Black community leaders in and outside of the political system who understand that the Black vote should not be freely handed out to any candidate or political party that doesn’t demonstrate a specific focus on their Black constituents.
Of course, there are many who hear the words “Black Party” and assume that the coalition is competing with the Democratic Party for votes. However, the leaders of OBP envision an America where “Black people are liberated and participate freely in the political, economic, and social systems that work together for our benefits.”
To quell any fears of dividing the Democratic Party, the leaders insisted that this idea is not a novel idea in the political arena. The Tea Party, the conservative “silent majority,” and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) are among the many powerful voting blocs that have wielded the power of their communities’ votes as a way of impacting the existing political structures.
“You can want to stop Trump while still requiring Biden to earn your vote,” explained Hollingsworth. “And that’s what we want to do. We want to simultaneously make sure Black folks recognize that there’s power in their votes and also make any of the candidates aware—particularly presidential candidates—that Black folks are waking up to the power that is in their votes.”
“It’s not enough to just come to the church or to come to the convention and speak about the issues that you’ve heard us talk about for years,” Hollingsworth said. “But they have to commit to some real policies, not just assemble a taskforce to tell you what you already know. They must actually put Black people in place of leadership to be able to shepherd those policies through.”
“We have to be very clear, ” added Bellamy. “Before you were a Democrat, before you were a Republican, before you were an independent, you were Black. So this isn’t just about the Democratic Party.
“Many cities across the country run nonpartisan elections,” he noted. “So you have folks in elected office that are not running on a Democrat or Republican or independent platform, yet they are still not meeting the needs of their local community. This is about holding all elected officials and those who desire to be in office accountable to the constituencies that they serve and accountable to the fact that there is a, there is a shared humanity. It’s about knowing that if any of us are marginalized in the communities, all of us are marginalized in our community.”
Here’s how Our Black Party would work:
Black voters in communities across the country would have input on creating a Black agenda that featured policy initiatives specifically addressing the needs of their individual communities. Candidates for office would have to appeal to Our Black Party by demonstrating a commitment to these goals, in exchange for a partnership with activists and organizers helping the politicians get elected and achieving the goals in the Black agenda. Referencing Malcolm X’s speech, “the Ballot or the Bullet,” Bellamy noted that this is the only way to ensure that Black voters know which local, state and national political candidates are committed to a Black agenda.
The elephant in the room, of course, is the “bullet” part of the equation. If Black voters support these candidates en masse, only to have the candidates repeatedly ignore Black issues, then what is the bullet? What specifically can Black voters do to politicians who ignore them or lie to them?
“Well, we do the same thing that every other constituency does,” Hollingsworth explained. “ We find someone who will. We’re done with you. We know that fundraising and political power depends on longevity. The Democratic Party will eventually get tired of having to replace one-term candidates and start paying attention to our vote. And, for the candidates who keep their promises, we have to not only support them with our votes, but we have to work alongside them in our communities. That’s how you gain power.”
Will it work?
Both Hollingsworth and Bellamy are aware that there are many Black people among the Democratic faithful who will resist this age-old, politically proven strategy. However, they also note that there wouldn’t be a need for a Black Party if the current way of doing things was working for Black America. And if things aren’t working, they asked, why would anyone object to trying something new?
“We have to recognize that both parties have failed Black Americans,” said Hollingsworth. “The fact is, Black Americans have continued to participate overwhelmingly in local elections and voting for Democratic candidates. And the Democratic Party has taken that vote for granted over the years. We continue to vote Democratic because we believe in this democracy that we envision, although the one that we dream of is not one that has ever existed here for us. So our goal is to simply raise the standard.”
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