In 2012, history was made—again. For the first time, African-American voters turned out at a higher rate than the national average, and helped lift President Barack Obama to a second term while helping Democrats add eight seats in the House of Representatives.
As we honor the 88th Black History Month, we celebrate the strides so many African Americans have made, and recognize their outsized impact at the ballot box. This fall, the congressional midterms will be another opportunity to rewrite the history books and defy expectations in a midterm election.
And there’s no question that it can be done.
Propelled by the overwhelming support and turnout of African-American voters, President Bill Clinton and Democrats in Congress gained five seats in 1998 and shocked pundits and prognosticators alike. Like President Clinton, President Obama has been confronted by obstacles beyond his control. Since this Republican Congress took the majority in 2011, they have blocked President Obama’s agenda at every turn—all because they want to protect special interests at the expense of middle-class families.
From countless votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act to shutting down the government to refusing to raise the minimum wage, time and time again, House Republicans have shown they aren't on the side of the middle class and African-American families.
With their efforts to repeal health care reform, Republicans are trying to go back to the days when insurance companies could write the rules and be in charge—undermining the 6.8 million uninsured African Americans who now have access to affordable health insurance for the first time. When the Tea Party shut down the government, they forced more than 145,000 African-American federal employees to take furloughs, while robbing our economy of $24 billion. And by refusing to raise the minimum wage, Republicans are preventing 28 million hardworking Americans from getting a raise.
This is also the same Republican Congress that was the first in American history to vote to sanction a president's Cabinet member: Attorney General Eric Holder. These are the types of political games that have done nothing to help working Americans build the economic security for which they’ve worked so hard.
So there’s too much at stake this fall to stay home and not get involved.
To move his agenda forward, President Obama needs more Democratic partners in Congress. But we know it won't be easy.
In addition to the conservative Supreme Court's decision to overturn Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, we have seen states across the country led by Republican legislatures launch a full-court press to enact suppressive voting legislation and disenfranchisement efforts. Too many Election Days have featured broken voting machines, flawed voter rolls, hours-long lines and misleading ballots. Republicans support these measures for a reason—the 2012 and 2008 national election results showed an undeniable correlation between turnout and Democratic Party success.
This country has come too far since the Voting Rights Act's initial passage in 1965 to move backward. House Democrats will continue to fight to ensure that participation in our democracy remains unfettered and that all votes will be properly counted.
During President Obama's first term, Republicans made their top priority loud and clear: to make President Obama a one-term president. We’re all glad they failed. But if Republicans maintain or build on their majority after November, President Obama’s legacy—and the nation’s economic recovery—will be in jeopardy.
Republicans and their special interest allies are part of a broken and dysfunctional system in Washington that favors scoring politics points over problem solving, and looking out for big oil and special interests instead of the middle class.
Just last month, House Republican Leader Eric Cantor was caught dining on the taxpayers’ dime as he and his colleagues continued to block a vote on extending unemployment insurance for 1.6 million Americans. Shameful.
The question African-American voters will ask when they walk into the voting booth is: Whose side are you on? Are you standing with President Obama and working to strengthen the middle class and ensure that our government is meeting the needs of its people? Or, are you for a Republican Congress that's championed gridlock, cheered on failure and celebrated inaction?
Every day for the past 15 months, my Democratic colleagues and I have come to work knowing the reason we are here is that Americans—including nine out of 10 African Americans—went to the polls to support us and our agenda. Democrats are working hard to continue earning the trust and support of African-American voters, and we hope you will join us at the ballot box this fall as we continue our efforts to move America forward.
The Root aims to foster and advance conversations about issues relevant to the black Diaspora by presenting a variety of opinions from all perspectives, whether or not those opinions are shared by our editorial staff.