The Congressional Black Caucus’s Annual Legislative Conference is always an exciting combination of a policy wonk reunion, a series of issues forums, and the ever-present parties, receptions, and celebrations. Some enjoy deriding the gathering as “nothing but a party,” but in fact it’s an opportunity for networking, information gathering, strategizing and more. This year, there were several sessions focused on issues concerning African-American women and girls. There were posters in the Washington Convention Center that lifted up some of the women who have been killed by so-called law enforcement officers, women whose names have been swallowed by the attention focused on the horrible murders of young African-American men. Some of their names — Kendra James, Shelly Frey, Yvette Smith, Sandra Bland, Natasha McKenna and too many others, need to be invoked as often as we invoke the names of Michael Brown, Philando Castile and Laquan McDonald.
The Black Women’s Roundtable has worked with Essence magazine for the past three years to survey Black women at the Essence Music Festival and through other sources about our political concerns. This year’s survey shows that the Democratic thrill is gone for many African-American women. In 2016, “Black women overwhelmingly (85%) felt that the Democratic Party best represented their interests.” This year, that number dropped to 74 percent, a drop of 11 percent. Some will say that Democrats aren’t in such bad shape — three-quarters of African-American women still think the Democratic Party represents their interests. But I don’t think the Democratic Party can afford to experience an 11 percent drop among their most loyal voters.
Republicans should not be licking their chops at the drop in Black women’s support for Democrats, since they didn’t pick up support. In the Essence survey, only 1 percent of Black women felt the Republican Party had their best interests. Instead, the percentage of women who felt that neither party represented Black women grew to 21 percent. One in five black women simply trust neither party.
All but two percent of the women surveyed were voters. Seventy percent were active in their communities, with more than half active in their churches and in other organizations. Most gave 45 a failing grade for his performance in office. Only 3 percent gave him either a C or a B grade — he did not receive any A grades from the Black women surveyed.
As Republicans attempt to fast track the foolishness of yet another attempt at repealing the Affordable Care Act, preserving that legislation was the most important issue priority for African-American women. It was more important than equal pay, child care, redistricting and reproductive rights. Black women’s response reflects the adage that if you don’t have health, you don’t have anything. The next most important issues for Black women were a living wage, quality public education, the rise in hate crimes, and criminal justice reform.
One in six of the women surveyed have considered running for public office, primarily at the local level. That’s good news — we need more committed activists “out there” and working for the people. Indeed, during a recent visit to Greenville, South Carolina, I learned that the women of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., had their first-ever summit to encourage Black women to run for public office. The Democratic Party may want to take note and consider sponsoring workshops like this all over the country.
Democrats need to take a careful look at the Black Women’s Roundtable/Essence survey and try to figure out why they are losing their most loyal supporters. They’ve spent millions trying to woo the “working class white men” who look askance at them, but little or nothing trying to work with the folks who have been loyal to them, and because of that, they are losing that loyalty. With 2018 elections fast approaching, Democrats have work to do. The Democratic thrill is fading away for too many African-American women. Is the party willing to court us, or are they willing to lose us to third parties or to independent status? The 2018 elections may hang in the balance.
Malveaux’s latest book, “Are We Better Off?: Race, Obama and Public Policy,” is available via amazon.com.