Opinion written by Tia Oso
Results are in from the 2014 polls and Arizona’s state cabinet, Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General and Superintendent of Public Instruction were all swept by Republican candidates.
Notably, several Democrats were successful in holding on to Congressional seats at the Federal level.
What became clear to me, that seems to be escaping Democrats, not just in Arizona, but across the country, as Republicans successfully increased their representation in Congress and regained control of the Senate, is the lack of Democratic strategy in building a strong base of support, organizing a coalition of communities of color and values voters similar to the coalition that helped to elect and re-elect President Obama. Put simply, a lack of respect for Black voters. This is particularly true in Arizona, where Democratic candidates ignore Black voters election after election and then can’t understand when Democratic candidates fail to win statewide and county wide elections.
The root of this failure to build coalition is structural racism that shuts out African-Americans from organizing decisions and positions in the state Democratic Party, as well as the tacit strategy of distancing candidates from President Obama to deflect Conservative attacks. Both ignoring and taking Black voters for granted has proven once again that Black voters, as well as issues important to Black communities are not a priority for the state Democratic Party. It is past time we develop a winning strategy to strengthen the political, social and economic power of the Black community, independent of a party that does not care to include us in a meaningful way.
Arizona Democrats have failed time and again to invest in Arizona’s Black electorate. At the results watching events, a time when everyone involved in the party should be present, the lack of diversity was noticeable.
Does the AZ Dem leadership intend to win with only the white liberal and moderate vote?
We have a deep history of committed Black elected leaders, party participants and yes, voters, that if cultivated, could and should play a significant role in our state’s progressive agenda. Instead, we hear excuses about the low population of African-Americans in the state, face attacks from progressives grabbing power from historic areas of Black representation in the 2010 redistricting, the Phoenix City Council race for District 8, and a general disrespect and undermining of Black political leaders within the party. Instead of building power, Black/Brown allyship is undermined by championing the Latino vote while casting aside a dedicated and loyal electorate of Black voters and leaders.
Candidates don’t even talk to Black communities.
Save for Sandra Kennedy, I didn’t see many candidates spending money targeting Black voters via targeted media, such as PHXSoul.com, the AZ Informant or urban format radio stations. I noticed my mother’s house didn’t receive any campaign mailings, where she and both of my brothers (count that 3 Black registered voters that vote in every election) live.
In the gubernatorial debates, I didn’t hear Democratic candidate Fred Duval address the huge expenditure on private prison contracts as a culprit of misspending in the AZ budget. Though I’m sure many candidates made their rounds on the Sunday circuit to Phoenix’s large Black Church congregations. Typical.
If candidates are serious about winning, they will invest in outreach, hire experienced Black campaign team members and build issues based platforms that include our concerns, particularly in the areas of jobs, education, reforming the criminal justice system and healthcare. Progressive training programs such as Emerge and Center for Progressive Leadership would dedicate recruitment efforts and scholarship funds to Black participants, to strengthen leadership and participation. Without real effort, there can be no expectation of participation by the Black community in Arizona politics, to the detriment of everyone in the state. The unchecked political power of the GOP has placed our state firmly in the hands of the Tea Party, ALEC and dark money donors. No wonder our economy is struggling to recover and we are ranked nearly dead last in education. It is time to wake up.
As for our responsibility in the Black community, the answer, as always, is organize, organize, organize. Not for the Democratic Party, but for our social, economic and yes, political strength, independent of a party.
Electoral politics is not the ultimate solution to the serious problems facing the Black community, but it is certainly a tool that has proven, with some success, to ensure our voices are heard and our issues get addressed. We must connect with one another, build relationships, strategize and we must get involved.
Register to vote and show up to cast your ballot! We must raise funds to support candidates that will represent our issues. We need to run for office, excellently demonstrated by the millennial generation leadership of Lawrence Robinson, Reginald Bolding, Bryan Kilgore, Channel Powe and Devin Del Palacio to name a few.
Far too many elected offices, especially school board seats, are vacant or have candidates running unopposed. We must volunteer our time and talent to issues and people that we care about with as much passion as we express when a Black person is gunned down by the police or faces racial injustice in the school or workplace.
The upcoming African American Legislative Leadership Conference, held every year in February, will be an excellent time for us to come together as a community and build a plan of action for Black civic engagement.
Almost every year is an election year. Municipal, county, state and federal positions and policy matters are decided by those who are engaged. I was recently invited to serve on the Host Committee of Netroots , one of the largest national progressive organizing conferences, which will be held in Phoenix in July 2015. There are also efforts to have the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Phoenix, where the presidential nominee will be decided. I do hope that this national spotlight on Arizona will signal a shift towards inclusion and intersectional organizing for progressives across the state. It is proven time and again that engaged and active Black community achieves progressive advancement for ALL members of society, from the Civil Rights Act to the labor movement. The only way Arizona will truly move forward is if we are moving it forward together.
Tia Oso is the Arizona Organizer for Black Alliance for Just Immigration, a chair of the AZ Black/Brown Coalition and President of the Greater Phoenix Urban League Young Professionals.