In recent years, residents and voters of the battleground state of Florida have faced their share of challenges — from the controversial presidential election of 2000 that required a vote recounting and the U.S. Supreme Court before a clear winner could be determined (George W. Bush won by 537 votes over Al Gore), and GOP Gov. Rick Scott both shortening the early voting period and getting rid of a favorite among Black voters, “Souls at the Polls” Sunday voting, to the tragic deaths of two 17-year-old Black boys, Travon Martin (February 2012) and Jordan Davis (November 2012).
And while the 2018 congressional elections don’t take place for another year and a half, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has already targeted 79 GOP-held districts that they believe they can take. However, some Floridians believe victory won’t come without the on-the-ground efforts of the state’s sole organization representing the African-American members of the Democratic Party, the Democratic Black Caucus of Florida.
The Caucus, founded in 1983 in order to increase voter participation and to unite and increase political power for Black Democrats, once ignored by state party officials, gathered in Orlando last weekend for their 35th annual conference where they elected new officers, met with leading Democrats from Florida and the U.S. and began to strategize for the upcoming midterm elections.
Bill Nelson, 74, a Miami native and a career politician, has represented the state as a U.S. senator since 2000. He told the Caucus members that they must stay the course in this age of Trump.
“You can go down the list and see that Donald Trump wants to push through legislation that will not reflect our interests,” he said. “Health care, Medicare and Social Security are being threatened. We can’t let that happen. I had considered retiring but realized that this is not the time. There’s too much at stake,” Nelson added, who previously served six terms in the Florida Legislature.
Val Demings, 60, a first-term member of the House for Florida’s 10th congressional district, challenged the Caucus during their gala on Sat., May 20, where she and other speakers focused their remarks on economic empowerment and community politics.
“This country is on fire and there are efforts to close the gate, to make us go back — I refuse to go back,” said Demings, who previously served as Orlando’s first Black female chief of police. “This president doesn’t have a clue of the magnitude of his job or the crucial role that government plays in the lives of Americans. We lost in 2016. Some of us were unable to get out of bed on Nov. 9 (the day after the presidential election). But we had to get up. We’d better wake up.”
New York Assemblyman Michael Blake, 35, lives in and represents the Bronx, formerly serving in several capacities for Barack Obama from 2008 to 2012. He said complaining about the Republican agenda won’t change things.
“We can moan all we want but if we want to take back the House, the Senate and the White House, we have to do more than promise voters that we’ll change policies,” he said. “Folks want to make sure they have food on their tables and a roof over their heads. They want to enjoy life just a little and know their children have a future. What we have to do is vote their butts [Republicans] out of office.”
Other guest speakers included: Judy Mount, vice chairman, Democratic National Committeewoman, the first Black woman to hold the position; Commissioners Charles Smith and Dale V.C. Holness; and Art Rocker, chairman, Operation People for Peace, Inc.
The Caucus, with a statewide membership of 742, had 194 credentialed voters cast their ballot on early Saturday. Henry Crespo Sr., the president for the past four years and credited with bringing new energy and focus to the Caucus, handed over the reins to Lydia Hudson, a Tampa Bay resident, elected by 2 to 1 margin. The other new officers include: Russell Drake, 1st vice; Glenda Alfred-Atkins, 2nd vice; Hazel Gillis, secretary; and Cornelle Maxfield, treasurer.
“Leadership isn’t always easy and sometimes we make some mistakes, but no one can ever question our commitment,” Hudson said. “Working beside Henry during his terms as president has allowed me to travel this state and better understand the needs of Black communities in Florida. We’re going to continue the work he began. And we’re going to make our voices and our votes heard.”