This article is part of The Root Institute 2023 pre-event coverage.
When Florida Governor Ron DeSantis stepped up to the podium at a Sunday night vigil for A.J. Laguerre, Jerrald Gallion and Angela Michelle Carr, the two Black men and one Black woman shot and killed by 21-year-old white supremacist Ryan Palmeter in Jacksonville the crowd erupted not in tears or calls for justice but loud and constant boos while one man yelled “These deaths are on your hands!”
Now, I don’t pretend that Florida is some microcosm of the United States. But, let’s be honest, DeSantis isn’t just Florida’s Governor, he’s a GOP candidate for President currently polling second in the race and this was his home turf. So, Sunday wasn’t just a warning for the DeSantis campaign, it was a warning for the GOP…and they were watching.
See, from the Black voter surges of 2006, 2008, 2012 and 2019 to the 2020 returns where Black voters made the difference in key states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Georgia, the political math is undeniable: when Black voters turnout, Democrats win.
Of course, we don’t have to look any further than 2016 when Donald Trump pulled the age-old Divide and Conquer tactic by targeting 3.5 million Black voters in key swing states and managed not only to drive down Black turnout, but convince 14% of Black men to actually vote for him. So he won.
It’s like the old expression says: “You might not win with us. But you’ll certainly lose without us.”
So what does this have to do with a Sunday night vigil in Jacksonville, FL? It’s simple. It reminds us that the dissatisfaction and distrust Black voters, particularly Black men, feel towards the GOP is real, deep and organic. It is the Achilles heel for MAGA Republicans, particularly on the national level.
It’s not just Florida and Ron DeSantis. Across the board, the GOP not only repeatedly failed to take the issues impacting Black folks in America seriously, they’ve painted a target on our backs. We can look at Donald Trump comparing his indictment for trying to overturn the 2020 election with nine black teenagers wrongfully accused and convicted for raping two white women in 1931. We can look at Vivek Ramaswamy comparing Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley to a “modern grand wizard” of the Ku Klux Klan. We can look at the racist gerrymandering of congressional maps, the GOP’s rabid opposition to voting rights, the MAGA war on critical race theory and history itself and more.
But it also reminds us that the GOP knows how to neutralize that threat. The fact that DeSantis dared to enter that podium without reading the room tells us that the GOP is bold and willing to pull for Black votes even when the odds are low. They’ve done it before, and they’ll do it again.
So Black men must be particularly organized, mobilized,and united on Election Day—- and Democrats can’t afford to take us for granted. But the stakes are high for all Black people. And the issues that impact us the most are on the ballot box.
During the Gallic Wars of antiquity, Julius Caesar employed a novel strategy. You see, the people of Gaul, if united, were simply too numerous to be subjected. So, to prevent that unity, he engaged and elevated certain targeted tribes knowing that, by doing so, he would promote dissent and discord among all of the Gallic peoples. Then he could take them one by one and enslave them at his leisure.
He called his strategy “Divide et Impera” - Divide and Conquer.
Over the centuries, that strategy has been refined whether in Machiavelli’s machinations, the British colonization of India, even the Virginian slave codes that convinced European indentured servants they were somehow better off than African slaves to prevent them from joining forces against the wealthy landowners who exploited them both. They did the same thing across America by convincing poor white folks they had more in common with rich white folks than they did poor Black folks. But that’s another article altogether.
Now that strategy is being used to try and turn Black men and Black women against each other pretending that a win for Black women like President Biden appointing the first Black woman to the United States Supreme Court is somehow a loss for Black men.
It’s ridiculous, I know. Unfortunately, too often it works.
You see, the MAGA lords know that if they can divide Black voters, the most consequential and most loyal voting bloc in America, the sky’s the limit.
But there’s another unforeseen consequence to their strategy. By targeting Black men for a potential 14-16% of our vote, they’ve created their own worst nightmare and transformed ours into one of if not the most important swing vote in the nation.
By trying to alienate us, they’ve actually unwittinglyempowered us. Now they’re afraid we’ll use that power against them.
Whether you’re talking about 2016’s Russian Fake News Campaign, disinformation flooding the 2022 Georgia runoff or the relentless misinformation efforts targeting Black and Brown voters in 2020, it’s clear that voters of color, particularly Black men, are the number one target for misinformation, disinformation, and voter suppression and the experts tell us that it’s only going to get worse in 2024.
Let’s go back to Florida where Gov. DeSantis took a bow after having 19 Floridians, the vast majority of them Black, who had the audacity to think that a 2018 law that restored voting rights to any Floridian with a felony conviction but had served their time, applied to them.
Of course, almost all of those cases were dismissed. But Gov. DeSantis still took his bow and sent his message loud and clear to Black men across Florida: “This is what happens if you try to vote.”
But this isn’t new. Anyone who’s gone through an election year in South Carolina knows about the flyers on that every windshield outside Black churches or stuffed into the storm doors in Black neighborhoods that warn us that Sheriff’s deputies will be running background checks at the polls on Election Day and locking up anyone with so much as an unpaid parking ticket on his record.
MAGA leaders like DeSantis know that losers don’t legislate. So, they stack the deck as best they can because they also know that, if they don’t…if Black men turn out on Election Day…then they’ll be on the losing end.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, isn’t it?
We’ve seen Voter ID. We’ve seen eligible Black voters purged from the rolls in red states. We know all about the hundreds of bills aimed at further restricting our most basic Democratic right to vote since Black Americans came out in droves to vote for Joe Biden in the 2020 election.
The truth is, that when we’re organized, mobilized and united, the voices and votes of Black men hold a power that is as undeniable as it is inescapable. Ours is the irresistible force that can finally overcome an immovable object. But we can’t act like we’re on the finish line with our whole community at stake. Instead, we must be ready, willing, and able to push that line forward. We can’t afford to remain silent.
For our homes and our families, for our fathers and our futures, we can’t be silent. We must fight like our lives are on the line…because they are. Because if we don’t fight for them…if we don’t fight for us… no one else will.
Antjuan Seawright (@antjuansea) is a Democratic political strategist, founder and CEO of Blueprint Strategy LLC, a CBS News political contributor, and a senior visiting fellow at Third Way. He will be a speaker at this year’s Root Institute in Washington DC on September 20 at Howard University.