By Erica Thomas and Lillie Mae Johnson
The 2018 midterm election cycle has become the single most-watched election in almost a decade. Regardless of what happens on Election Day, Nov. 6, 2018, we will learn many lessons. Some will be joyous, while others will be extremely painful. Here is my breakdown:
Wins: Actual wins and potential ways we are winning
In 2018, we have more than 400 Black women running for office nationwide, including Democrat Stacey Abrams’ historic run as the first Black woman in our nation to receive her party’s nomination for governor of Georgia. Record numbers of Black women are running for U.S. Congress, statewide executive offices and in state Senate and House races. Across the nation, Black women represent more than 80 percent of early voters in this election cycle.
In three Southern states, progressive Black candidates are taking the lead. In addition to Stacey Abrams in Georgia, former NAACP national president Ben Jealous in Maryland and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum in Florida are at the top of the Democratic tickets for governor in their states. This reflects a real shift in where the Black voting power base exists and sends a strong message to the Democratic National Committee about which messaging seems to appeal most to their base. Their platforms support the expansion of Medicaid, criminal justice reform, stronger support for small business, legalization of marijuana-cannabis and broader wraparound services for public education.
The influence of hip-hop across all genres and aspects of culture is ubiquitous, and watching hip-hop artists, producers, and innovators wield their collective voice and power to influence elections is impactful. Artists like T.I., Snoop Dogg, John Legend, Cardi B, Rihanna, Ludacris and DJ Khaled are out front and vocal, using their massive social media power to mobilize millennial voters.
Losses: Things we have lost but can possibly regain
Unfortunately, we have lost a high level of civility in our political and personal discourse. Unseen levels of disrespectful vitriol pollute our airwaves and timelines. Unheard of violence gripped the nation’s soul in the last week of October as pipe bombs, mass shootings and public verbal assaults seem to be the “new normal.”
Hyper-partisanship and a lack of governance are at an all-time high. Since the election of Barack H. Obama as the 44th president of the United States, the nation has become more politically and ideologically polarized. The government has never been so unresponsive to the people, we haven’t balanced a federal budget in almost two decades, and we witnessed the politicization of the U.S. Supreme Court with the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Draws: Things where our loyalties have been split
On Friday, Oct. 26, 2018, 200 Black millennials visited the White House for the first Black Conservative Youth Leadership Summit. President Donald Trump and several of his advisers participated in the event hosted by Black conservative Candace Owens. We can’t ignore the impact Kanye West’s embrace of Trump has on African Americans and specifically Black youth. Van Jones and Kim Kardashian West also have joined forces to engage the White House in conversations about criminal justice reform. We don’t know how the recent uptick in Trump’s approval ratings among African Americans will manifest in the midterm or 2020 elections. Right now, it’s a draw but should not be ignored.
Nothing is more critical in these midterm elections than Black millennials turning out to vote. While 2016 reflected high voter turnout among millennials nationwide, Black millennials had the lowest of any racial demographic. Currently, less than 10 percent of the high early voting turnout across the nation is voters 18 to 35 years old. Will Black millennials impact the 2018 midterms? Right now, it’s a draw.
If we haven’t learned that the Republican Party will do anything to win and is incapable of governing a nation, Republicans will continue to win elections, remove safety nets, destroy Obamacare, gut voting rights laws, expand gun rights for the NRA, separate migrant children from their parents, raise corporate profits while reducing wages, and destroy our democracy.
We have learned that voter suppression is real, and we still don’t have a counter strategy to combat it. From Georgia to North Dakota to Florida, suppression tactics are being waged against people of color, senior citizens and persons with disabilities.
Our greatest lesson this year is that voting still matters as an agent of change in our society. Frederick Douglass said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.” Voting places a demand on power to speak to our collective voices, needs and concerns.
Win, lose or draw, we will learn.
Erica Thomas (D-Austell) represents District 39 in the Georgia House of Representatives. Lillie Mae Johnson is a political strategist.