Black men being courted as Americans get ready to vote

Black men being courted as Americans get ready to vote

Thursday, October 29, 2020

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NEW YORK (AP) — For Phillip Agnew, engaging black male voters ahead of the general election isn't just about persuading them to choose former Vice-President Joe Biden over incumbent Donald Trump.

As an activist and organiser who gained acclaim after leading protests in Florida over the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin, Agnew sees an opportunity to keep the 14.4 million black men of voting age politically engaged well beyond 2020.

That effort begins with keeping it real about this year's candidates. Trump's positions on race and Biden's decades-old controversial record on criminal justice make neither candidate particularly attractive to black men.

“You don't lie, you acknowledge the truth, and admit that the choices before black people in the year 2020 are abysmal,” said Agnew, an organiser with Black Men Build, a group created to empower black men.

His group has paid to run targeted ads on TV and music-streaming services such as Hulu and Spotify, supplemented by mailers and organisers on the ground. The message is geared toward Black men who feel politically homeless.

“We are not choosing a champion, we are choosing an opponent,” Agnew said, adding that he is also telling black men that “a Biden presidency allows for terrain to organise under that is more favourable”.

Following an unprecedented surge of protests against racial injustice and the killing of black people by law enforcement, partisan and non-partisan organisations have poured significant resources into increasing black men's participation in the election.

And they're doing so with an acknowledgement that no major political party can lay claim to being a consistently loyal advocate for black men and women.

Whoever comes out ahead among black men, advocates say, will have succeeded in reaching more of those who are apathetic or feel politically left out.

There's evidence that get-out-the-vote campaigns targeting black men have worked.

As of yesterday, more than 67.1 million votes had been cast in the 2020 General Election, with black voters making up about nine per cent of that total — a proportion that is similar to the number of registered voters who are black.

And 39 per cent of those votes were by black men — a similar gender breakdown to numbers reported in the 2016 General Election. Turnout has been boosted by traditional grass roots organising within venues like black churches, where “souls to the polls” campaigns have stressed voting early, in-person or absentee.

Energising black men as a voting bloc has been important to both campaigns. While 81 per cent of black men voted for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016, that's still less than the 98 per cent of black women who did so, according to a Pew Research Center analysis.

Biden's campaign has regularly hosted virtual round-table discussions, called “Shop Talk”, tapping black celebrities, athletes, political leaders, activists and historically black fraternities to parse the challenges faced by black men across the country.

And in more than a dozen Black Voices for Trump Community Centers placed in African American neighbourhoods, the president's campaign has been drawing contrasts with Biden and Senator Kamala Harris on issues of criminal justice and economics.

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