Black Leaders Organizing for Community: Featured Grantee Opinion Piece
Groundswell Action Fund is publishing grantee partner opinion pieces to highlight their work. The opinions expressed in it are those of the grantee.
Call for Earlier Endorsements & Balanced, Equitable Media Coverage
By Grantee Partner Angela Lang, Executive Director of Black Leaders Organizing for Communities
It’s still early in the 2024 election cycle, and the time is now to reconsider what electoral accountability and candidate electability means in our progressive landscapes.
My team at Black Leaders Organizing for Communities (BLOC) learned firsthand, in the high profile and highly funded 2023 Wisconsin Supreme Court (WISC) election, that time is more than overdue.
As a leader, I continue to witness so-called progressive candidates, their constituents, and — I hate to say– my colleagues throw black candidates out of the campaign bus (or under it) in the name of so-called fairness & the comfort of a lukewarm platform.
The 2022-3 campaign for WISC, the organization I lead, did not endorse a candidate we knew did not have our interest at heart. We wish more donors, leaders, and organizations would join us in aligning their voices earlier in the campaign endorsement window.
Not only would this proactive movement highlight organizational strategic and change-making visions and promote more BIPOC candidate solidarity and coalition across the ballot, but it could also encourage better behavior in campaign advertisements and from news media.
Across the United States, contentious races can be reduced to the few candidates who can check ever-narrowing boxes. This whitening of what’s possible happens whether or not candidates reflect the blocks they heavily canvas.
Candidates of color are losing in communities with a spectrum of voting poll access issues that compound issues from continued gerrymandering, high incarceration rates, and ID or residency requirements. And there are few candidates of color, to begin with, but that’s another story.
As organizers at various tables in the work of 501(c)4 electoral accountability work, we have seen that while voters have been mobilized in recent WI election cycles, racialized bias is still very much at play in terms of late endorsements, lack of endorsements, and the infiltration of a spectrum of stealth and overt conservative messaging around criminal punishment and the myth of the unelectable black candidate.
In Wisconsin, we saw these trends veer the train carrying the possibility for a representative democracy dangerously off track in the late months of 2022, as our state saw not one but two races with quality Black candidates miss out on wins critical to setting a new tone for the journey ahead.
In the 2022 midterms, a high profile loss like Mandela Barnes’ bid for a Wisconsin’s United States Senate seat against incumbent (and election denier) Ron Johnson came down to just 26,000 votes (after Barnes had garnered 77% of voter support in the primary).
There is also a shadow at work in the process. While Wisconsin has a changing state-wide electorate, there are also waning historical trends (like down-ballot voting & young voter turnout). Anti-black tactics are also at play in media coverage and data analysis that support organizer and voter decision-making.
When it came to Mitchell’s campaign, I saw voters, donors, and organizers unable to differentiate between Barnes and Mitchell as two unique Black candidates running different races for different offices.
BLOC was the first organization to endorse Everett Mitchell’s promising Wisconsin State Supreme Court candidacy in late summer 2022. By the February 2023 primary, we couldn’t deny the long shadow of Barnes’ senate loss. Or how late endorsements from other organizations and individuals did a disservice to the influx of necessary campaign money.
Unfortunately, throughout both campaigns, we saw continued problematic messaging from so-called Progressives positioned with common values of diversity, equity, and inclusion, disbanded easily in a political scene constrained by a fear of scarcity of public support for a Black candidate. The maxim seems it’s better to be a problematic candidate than a Black one.
We have to ask, what is happening in Wisconsin, and states like it, that counters national trends of a declining barrier to Black representation in US Congress? Here, beyond preemptively disqualifying a candidate with late/no endorsements, we are not doing enough to gain commitment from the voters unwilling to vote for a Black candidate.
Our leaders are responsible for innovating when faced with challenges on the road to freedom and justice for all. As a progressive community, we must unroot the everlasting impacts of white supremacist bias in our electoral processes.
Learn more about BLOC by visiting their website, blocbybloc.org.