Black Electoral Politics: Setting the Moral and Progressive Agenda

The decades of the 1970s and 1980s witness sweeping and significant changes in the American political landscape brought about through and by the 1960s Movement.  In 1972, blacks debated the idea of forming an independent black political party that would fight for and represent the interest of African American people.  Although this party was not formed, it helped lay the foundation for the election of blacks to elected office across the country.  The role of blacks in electoral politic multiplied as African Americans,  through voter registration drives and the  opening of the electoral system, went to the voting polls in unprecedented numbers, electing African Americans to local, state and national offices. Black elected officials became common place in major cities- Los Angeles, Newark, Chicago, and Cleveland.  The 1970s saw the emergence of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), made up of black members of the House of Representatives. The CBC became a political force in keeping the Civil rights Agenda before the nation.  The CBC’s avowed aim was: “To promote the public welfare by introducing and passing progressive legislation designed to meet the needs of millions of neglected citizens”.

In the 1980s the role of African American elected officials in international affairs was demonstrated through their contributions and intervention in the “Free South Africa Movement.”  The CBC, TransAfrica, a Washington-based lobby for African Affairs, and churches, and Black Nationalist organizations, led protest against the oppressive white government of South Africa, forcing American businesses, colleges and municipalities to divest their funds in South Africa. This protest movement brought international attention to the liberation struggle in South Africa and helped to dismantle the apartheid structure and society.   Leveraging their electoral presence and success of the 1980s, African Americans rose to continue to capture key position of power at the national and state levels.   Doug Wielder winning of the governor race in Virginia and Ron Brown election of Chairman of the National Democratic Committee (DNC) was emblematic of the rise of blacks in the electoral politics.  Ron Brown, the first African American chair of the DNC, is credited with building the infrastructure for the Democratic Party which elected Bill Clinton president in 1992.

In the face of attempts to roll back the gains blacks and other progressive people achieved through the 1960s struggle, Jesse Jackson launched two Presidential Campaigns in 1984 and 1988. These campaigns introduced race and class issues and as substantive issues meriting attention.  The Jackson Campaigns demonstrated that American people were indeed interested in substantive issues which impacted their daily lives and future. The campaigns became a platform to articulate progressive issues, address issues affecting the lives of ordinary Americans, and giving voice and choice for the voiceless and marginalized.  Those not elected,  Jackson’s campaigns became a model and inspiration for black and other progressive candidates,  yielding tangible benefits such as: 1) galvanizing black voters, 2) registering new voters, especially those disaffected and alienated from the electoral process, 3) raising the level of presidential dialogue and issues (  issue oriented dialogue versus personality driven dialogue, 4) placing morality and ethics at the core of domestic and foreign policy, and 5) demonstrating the possibility and viability of African Americans being elected to state and national offices. reference: Nelson George, Post-Soul Nation.

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