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Black voters weigh in on candidates’ outreach, Black Lives Matter movement on eve of election

Savanna Strott
Savanna Strott
CommunityElection 2020

On the penultimate Sunday before the election, KaPreace Young was helping host the Souls to the Polls event in Reno, where Democratic leaders joined Black voters at Dick Taylor Park after churches released and served lunch with live gospel music before leading groups to a voting site.

For Young, mobilizing Black voters and voting herself comes with power to shape the future for her son, nieces, nephews and cousins and a heavy historical significance.

"There was a time where my ancestors were worth three-fifths of a person, and we didn't have the right to vote. And when women were given the right to vote, that did not give Black women the right to vote," she said. "Those are the historical significances that encourage me and push me to keep voting no matter what systems of power are in place."

The Sunday spectacular, and a similar event in Las Vegas a week earlier, were among the more elaborate events attempting to inspire Black Nevadans, who make up 9 percent of eligible voters in the state, to vote during a pandemic which has thrown most traditional activities out the window. 

Historically the nation's largest racial minority group of eligible voters, Black voters are expected to make up the third largest share of the electorate after being surpassed by Hispanic voters. They have had the second highest rates of voter turnout among all racial and ethnic groups — except for in 2012 when the turnout rate peaked above that of white voters — and have been a strong and consistent voting bloc for the Democratic Party, with 83 percent identifying as or leaning toward Democrats and 10 percent saying the same for Republicans. 

Yindra Dixon, managing partner of a political consulting group and founder of MPower 360, a Nevada-based organization that mobilizes Black voters, said she sees this historical trend continuing in favor of Joe Biden, who notably served as vice president to the first Black president and chose the first Black woman to be on major party's ticket.

Although "every institution has been complicit in systemic racism," Dixon said, the Democratic Party has in her view won some loyalty by initiating policies that have granted Black Americans freedoms and support they had historically been without.

But Dixon said that history of consistent turnout for Democratic candidates has led campaigns to devote the least amount of outreach and support to Black voters. She said targeted outreach to Black voters typically comes as part of a last-ditch effort to woo the Black community after parties realize they're lagging with the demographic. 

"[Black voters] recognize that in order to ... make the progress they need to, they end up supporting Democrats because that's how the policy flows," she said. "But if there had been a candidate who truly tried to make that level of investment earlier, it could have been more competitive."

Dixon said that Biden has done a better job than previous candidates at recognizing the importance of Black voters, who propelled his win in the South Carolina primary and that became a turning point for his campaign.

The Biden campaign has been connecting with constituents through community leaders, most recently through events in mid-October with Stacey Abrams and other prominent Black politicians in Nevada. When talking with constituents, campaign staff and volunteers have been explaining what Biden's national policies, specifically the Lift Every Voice plan to address inequalities experienced by Black Americans and the Build Back Better plan for racial economic equity, mean for Black Nevadans. 

The strategy echoes one used ahead of the Nevada caucus, which saw Biden leading with Black voters 39 percent to Bernie Sanders' 27 percent share, according to entrance polls

"We're standing on the shoulders of work that's been done over a decade and making sure that our party is poised to speak to the Black community," said Ender Austin III, deputy political director for the Nevada Coordinated Campaign, the joint effort between the Biden campaign and the state Democratic Party. "We have more credibility when talking to folks because we actually have been in the trenches doing the work."

After winning 8 percent of Black voters in 2016, President Donald Trump has created local coalitions called Black Voices for Trump that organize volunteers for door-knocking and phone banking efforts and host engagement events, such as presentations on the president's Platinum Plan for Black Americans, which details proposed policies to increase access to capital, reduce the costs of health care, expand educational opportunities and improve the criminal justice system.  

"It's been such a privilege and a blessing to be, in a sense, up front to see the president's commitment that he's made to the Black community," said Cherri Savage, a 67-year-old volunteer at the Las Vegas chapter of the Trump campaign.

Continuing unrest around the country over systemic racism and police brutality has made the Black Lives Matter movement a critical topic for both Trump and Biden.

Trump has said the movement is "bad for Black people" and has characterized protests as violent, though an analysis from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) found that more than 93 percent of demonstrations related to the movement from May to August have been peaceful. He has reiterated promises to bring "law and order" to the country at his rallies.

At the first presidential debate, Biden said he supports peaceful protests but condemns violence. Several of his ads targeted to Black voters in the general election have focused on racial reconciliation and police brutality. An ad released in the final week of the campaign shows Biden explicitly saying "Black Lives Matter."

Within the Democratic stronghold of Black voters, Black men have shown more openness to supporting Trump. A 2018 Pew Research Center survey found that support for Trump in 2016 among Black women was almost non-existent, but 14 percent of Black men reported voting for Trump. 

Dixon said that foothold stems from some Black men being historically disenfranchised — specifically through incarceration, where they make up 33 percent of the country's prison population but only 12 percent of its adult population — and seeing economic growth as the only option to prosper.

"When you have been a part of a system that has continued to oppress you and disenfranchise you, it's hard to buy into the safety and security of that system. And so the only way for you to have value, and it's certainly something that the president has supported, in America is to have wealth,” Dixon said. “And it would make sense as a person who wants to amass wealth for their family to potentially align themselves with somebody who clearly values that.”

The Trump campaign has further tried to appeal to Black men by touting relationships with several Black male rappers, including Lil Wayne and Ice Cube, and Black male athletes, such as former football player Jack Brewer.

Several Black voters spoke with The Nevada Independent about the importance of voting, the failures and achievements of each campaign and who ultimately is getting their vote in the final days before Election Day. Here are their stories.

Community organizer, KaPreace Young on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020 at the University of Nevada, Reno. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

KaPreace Young, 24, Reno

Although KaPreace Young has worked with the state Democratic Party and tends to vote for Democrats, she's registered as nonpartisan.

"Why would I want to put myself in a bubble when there has been evidence of both parties doing wrong towards things that I value and believe in and stand for?" she said.

President of the Northern Nevada Black Cultural Awareness Society, Young said that the Black Lives Matter movement has made candidates aware of the need to work for the vote of Black Americans. 

Of the two candidates, Young said Biden, who she is voting for, has been more successful in his outreach. She said his campaign has been more specific to Black voters, referencing Kamala Harris' recent trip to Reno where she spoke about the disproportionate effect of the pandemic on Black communities and reproductive rights for Black women. 

When Harris first announced her bid for presidency, Young said she saw lots of joy and a "fire burning" in those who felt empowered by newfound representation in a presidential candidate and later a vice presidential candidate. Young said that representation is important but intentions are more so.

"Are you going to use your personal and professional experience and knowledge in order to better these communities? Or are you only using this position of power for your personal gain?" she said. "[Harris] already has set out the vision that she is here to make progress for those underrepresented communities."

Young said Trump’s response to Black men and women being killed during his tenure has been "disheartening."

"If he's not going to hold people accountable as being the commander in chief of this country, then why should I give him the time of my day?" she said.

Young, who is also the outreach coordinator for the Center for Student Engagement at UNR,  said she hasn't seen much support for Trump in the Black community in Reno.

"Black people — the ones that I've been talking to within my community — have basically said that we can't go on with him in office for four more years,” she said. "We need to do what we have to to get them out."

Rashad Bingham at the Pearson Community Center voting site in Las Vegas on Oct. 30, 2020. Photo by Jana Sayson.

Rashad Bingham, 32, Las Vegas

Rashad Bingham doesn't mind the sitting president. Under Trump, Bingham moved up in tax brackets and credited the president for a previous construction job where he made almost $100,000 a year.

"What he stood for actually kind of helped out my situation," Bingham said. "The tax cuts he made, they basically made more jobs. They helped me get my job, and honestly, I had a pretty decent job. I didn't get my decent job until he got in office."

But Bingham, who is a registered Democrat, said he is voting for Biden this year, both for the candidate’s character and policies but primarily because Trump didn't use an executive order to send out another round of stimulus checks to help people like him, who were laid off during the pandemic.

Trump signed an executive order in August that enabled a short-term, $300-per-week add-on to unemployment benefits, after a larger add-on expired and was not renewed by Congress.

Bingham said the lack of aid during the pandemic, particularly the mirage of a second stimulus package, has led him to vote for Democrats down the ballot. He said Democrats are more "for the people" and are more willing to spend money than Republicans.

"There's people that's getting kicked out [of] their house and all that stuff and don't have money to feed their kids," Bingham said. "I understand — Democratic Party, they played a part in what's going on, too, but it goes both ways. 'Cause y'all both should compromise for the people. You guys are in office for the people."

Voters cast their ballots at a voting site in Downtown Summerlin on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Cherri Savage, 67, Las Vegas

Cherri Savage grew up in a family that was staunchly Democratic, and she voted blue down the ballot when she was younger. But after turning 30, she began questioning her mechanical voting habits, eventually concluding that her values better matched the Republican Party.

Now a registered Republican, Savage, who is retired, is voting for Trump and has been volunteering at the Black Voices for Trump coalition in Las Vegas six afternoons a week.

One of Savage's key issues when voting is school choice, which allows parents to direct public education funding to the school they choose for their child, whether public or private. She described the public school system as an educational monopoly.

"That's the reason why you have some severe inequality in the public school system — because you're removing competition," she said. "I believe every parent should have the privilege and opportunity and access to the best possible education for their child."

She said that when she talks to voters, she encourages them to educate themselves and vote for the party whose platform aligns with their values. She describes voting as co-signing with a candidate's agenda and taking equal responsibility for their actions if they're elected to office.

"When you cash your vote, you're becoming a co-signer," Savage said. "So what are you co-signing to?"

Larissa Holloway at the Silver Mesa Community Center voting site in North Las Vegas on Oct. 30, 2020. Photo by Jana Sayson.

Larissa Holloway, 34, North Las Vegas

After logging overtime all week as a welfare eligibility worker, Larissa Holloway used her day off for the Nevada Day observance to vote at the Silver Mesa Community Center in North Las Vegas. At the end of a 45-minute wait, Holloway said she checked the box for Biden because he's "for everybody."

For Holloway, the paramount factor in determining her presidential choice was the character of the two candidates. She described Trump's commentary as "nonsense" and said he goes "on and on" trying to prove he's not racist after saying something controversial.

"When he's put on blast for the stuff that he actually said, then it's like, 'Oh no, I didn't mean that. Oh, but I helped this one Black community, I helped this one Black college,'" she said. "That's almost equivalent to saying, 'I'm not racist. I have this one Black friend that I know.'" 

Holloway also said that Question 2 stood out to her on the ballot. If passed, the measure would remove language from the Nevada Constitution that limits marriage to a man and a woman. The topic that has received increased national attention as advocates fear for the safety of same-sex marriage rights with an increasingly conservative Supreme Court.  

"If you want to get married and go through all the troubles and everything like we do," she said, eyeing her husband of 11 years and laughing, "you should be able to marry whoever you want. You should be able to be with whoever you want. There should be no law stopping you from loving who you want to love and actually having the same rights as everyone else."

Shaughn Richardson, a teacher at Washoe Inspire Academy, sits on his front porch on Wednesday, August 5, 2020. (Joey Lovato/The Nevada Independent)

Shaughn Richardson, 38, Reno

Shaughn Richardson was a registered nonpartisan until 2016, when he was drawn to Bernie Sanders' platform and switched to Democrat to caucus for the candidate. 

Richardson, who described his 2016 vote for Hillary Clinton as more of a "vote against Trump," said he supported Sanders again in 2020 and was initially disappointed that Biden was the Democratic nominee. But after researching his character and policy record, Richardson said he's now happy to vote for him.

"I'm a lot happier knowing who he is as a person and what he's stood for over the course of his long career than I was with Clinton," he said. "And just the idea also that he was vice president for the first Black president, and he's got the first Black woman as a VP on his ticket — I think that also just shows something about his character."

A high school social studies teacher, Richardson said his votes were primarily determined by candidates' plans to address the pandemic and their thoughts on the national unrest about race relations and the Black Lives Matter movement.

On the national stage, Richardson said Trump has been pandering to Americans with "racist tendencies" who aren't aware of the issues Black Lives Matter demonstrators are trying to address.

"He plays up their racial fears, and it's a historical thing that Republicans have done for most of the past 70 years. He's just leaned into it more heavily than most have done recently, but it's nothing new," he said.

Richardson said Biden's response has been "disappointing" and is an attempt to appeal to voters who see Black Lives Matters as a political issue rather than a civil rights issue. If Biden is elected, Richardson hopes that he'll look into alternative ways of policing communities and addressing systemic inequality present in criminal justice, housing and education, which he said Biden and the Democratic Party at large haven't adequately addressed.

"They do take the Black vote and the people of color's vote for granted because they know the other side is so much worse that they can kind of play the middle," he said. "When your choice is a party that's openly racist and a party that kind of plays lip service to reformist and progressive policies, it does get tiresome and exhausting trying to fight for these simple things."

Although Richardson is actively engaged in politics now, he said he didn't realize the impact a vote can have until he witnessed the close presidential race of 2000 and the consequences of Bush's election.

Some people today share a similar disillusionment with voting, arguing that it won't change a system that needs to be dismantled, not reformed. But Richardson said such an idea is a "false dichotomy.” 

"These systems can be changed, but they're not going to be changed by people not doing anything," he said. "The fewer people engaged makes it easier for certain people to get their agendas across. It makes it easier to control everyone else when a large portion of the population is disengaged and not involved actively."


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