Op-EdMarc MorialOpinion

MORIAL: The Midterm Elections — What’s at Stake for Communities of Color

“When there’s a vacuum in our democracy, when we don’t vote, when we take our basic rights and freedoms for granted, when we turn away and stop paying attention and stop engaging and stop believing and look for the newest diversion, the electronic versions of bread and circuses, then other voices fill the void. A politics of fear and resentment and retrenchment takes hold. And demagogues promise simple fixes to complex problems.” — Barack Obama

For several weeks now, the Urban League Movement and our sister civil rights organizations have been working hard to get Americans registered to vote and finding ways to get voters to the polls, through the campaign “Enough Is Enough. VOTE!” and through our partners in the W.K. Kellogg Foundation-supported Racial Equity Anchors Collaborative. You have seen our hashtags on social media – #EnoughIsEnoughVOTE, #TogetherWeVote and #WeVoteWeCount. You can check your registration, find your polling place and learn about the candidates on our website.

The outcome of the Nov. 6 Congressional elections will have a profound impact on the nation and on communities of color in particular. Perhaps most critical among the issues at state is health care. For nearly a decade, the National Urban League has fought to protect, strengthen and expand the Affordable Care Act, which slashed the uninsured rate among African Americans by a third. The House of Representatives has voted more than 60 times since 2010 to repeal the law. While Congress has not yet succeeded in a wholesale repeal, the repeal of the individual mandate, which goes into effect this year, is expected to leave as many as 13 million Americans uninsured, with premiums for ACA’s “bronze plans” rising as much as 13 percent. Already, the uninsured rate has risen by about 2 percent, thanks to deep cuts in advertising and outreach during the marketplace open-enrollment periods, a shorter open enrollment period. We need to elect leaders who will defend and strengthen the ACA.

Our racially-discriminatory criminal justice system also has degraded over the past two years. The Justice Department has moved to abandon consent decrees — formal reform agreements with police departments accused of racially-motivated excessive force and constitutional violations — and to ramp up the disastrous and racially discriminatory “war on drugs” while rescinding an initiative that reduced racial disparities in federal drug sentencing, and improved reentry opportunities for people leaving prison. We need to elect leaders who support criminal justice reform.

The federal government used to be a champion for voting rights, challenging discriminatory practices such as voter purges and restrictive ID laws. Its position on voting has completely reversed, as it joins state legislatures in defending voter suppression. We need to elect leaders who will restore the Voting Rights Act and defend it.

While the unemployment rate has continued the steady decline begun during the Obama administration, Black unemployment stubbornly remains twice as high as the White rate, and wage growth has been completely wiped out by inflation. We need to elect leaders who will raise the minimum wage and who support a comprehensive plan to address urban unemployment and underemployment.

As we have seen recently with the shocking delivery of actual bombs to perceived political critics, irresponsible rhetoric and a refusal to repudiate racists and hate groups has degraded our civil discourse to unprecedented levels. We need to elect leaders who will uphold standards of decency and dignity.

The level of vitriol aimed at refugees fleeing violence and terror, seeking safe harbor in the United States, is shocking. According to national and international law, refugees have the right to seek asylum here. Study after study confirms that immigrants contribute to the nation’s economic growth and present even less of a threat from crime than native-born Americans. Yet fear and hatred have dominated our immigration policies for the past two years. We need to elect leaders who will support comprehensive immigration reform, recognize the dignity of refugees and restore our status as Mother of Exiles.

It’s not just a slogan to say this is the most important election of our lifetimes. The very future of democracy as we know it may hinge on the outcome. Enough is enough. VOTE!

Morial is president of the National Urban League.

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