Do Black Lives Matter—To The Democratic Party?
Will The Black Lives Matter movement finally be embraced by the Democratic Party establishment, or just co-opted momentarily as an expedient political weapon to defeat Donald Trump?
By David Todd McCarty | Wednesday, June 3, 2020
Let’s start at the end, and ask the question, does it even matter? Because maybe it’s not a binary question in the first place. Maybe it’s all the same fight. Defeat Donald Trump and improve the lives of Black Americans. But the question is, can Democrats manage to do both?
It’s not an unreasonable question given the history of Black Americans in the Democratic Party since the 1960’s. Democrats embraced civil rights in 1964, causing the Party to lose white Southerners in droves, but giving them the “undying support” of black voters everywhere. Democrats were also traditionally the party of the working people, supporting organized labor and fighting for the rights of workers, right up until around the time Bill Clinton took office, when the Party began taking a more centrist approach that involved appealing to suburban white professionals. In the process, they abandoned the labor movement, selling them out in favor of corporate donors, and pledging to get tough on crime to appease nervous white soccer moms. If Republicans weren’t actively trying disenfranchise black voters at the time, Democrats had at least abandoned the black community in favor of targeting college-educated whites, making the calculation that they could count on black voters no matter what, so why focus on them?
Over the next few decades, the global economy, combined with the loss of manufacturing jobs, a declining middle class, and greater than ever income inequality meant that the effects of the crime bill and the war on drugs very nearly destroyed most black communities.
The fact that Black America was mostly concentrated in urban areas, and white flight to the suburbs had robbed cities of a tax base further added to the woes of the black community. The cavity of opportunity, and the lack of jobs and a decent education, was filled with drugs and crime, which brought even more police into the communities. The school to prison pipeline demanded more police and more prisons, so both Republican and Democratic administrations, feeling the pressure to be tough on crime or look weak, obliged.
The multitude of causes for where we are today is far too complex to get into here, but here we are. Almost all of the answers to our current problems come down to political will. Do our leaders have the political capital and the will to make the changes we’re asking of them?
Take Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, who after three years of promising to remove a controversial statue of former Mayor and Police Commissioner Frank Rizzo, a viciously racist figure in Philadelphia history, finally found the political will to have it removed early Wednesday morning. The removal, which Kenney had previously claimed was difficult due to its placement over a subway concourse, was removed in the early morning hours just a day after protestors defaced it and tried to pull it down. Apparently it was pretty easy to remove after all. The issue wasn’t how to do it, or whether it could be done safely, it was how much political fall-out there would be from Kenney’s South Philadelphia constituency. It was a political calculation and the math said take it down, so he took it down.
We can learn something from this incident. First, the mayor should be commended for doing the right thing, even if it took him far too long to do it. Second, it’s clearer than ever that nearly anything is possible if the political will is there. For instance, the Republicans have agreed to trillions of dollars in emergency spending to save the country from financial disaster. There is always money if the right people think we need it. Can we afford national healthcare? Universal basic income? Free college? Equality in education? A livable minimum wage? Reparations? Of course we can.
Can we solve the issue of guns in America? Can we stop the inequitable policies that have led to the violent incarceration of black men? Can we agree to stop the failed war on drugs that is plaguing our communities? Can we reform our entire law enforcement system including police, courts and prisons? Yes we can. Of course we can.
We can do all of these things, if only we have the political will to do so, which leads us back to our original question. Does the Democratic Party really believe that Black lives matter?
We shall see.