One of the added benefits of growing up in God’s country — South Carolina — and spending a great deal of time with my grandparents and the elders of my community was that I learned a lot of things that didn’t necessarily make sense at the time but became clear when I get older.
As a young fella, I didn’t always understand why they told me that “zebras don’t change their stripes” and “leopards don’t change their spots.” I didn’t look beneath the surface of folksy wisdom to appreciate the dire warnings they were giving me.
But, at 35 years old, I do now.
So when President TrumpDonald TrumpKinzinger says Trump 'winning' because so many Republicans 'have remained silent' Our remote warfare counterterrorism strategy is more risk than reward Far-right rally draws small crowd, large police presence at Capitol MORE claims that “nobody had ever heard of” Juneteenth until he made it “very famous,” I hear my grandparents’ voices, their foresight and their warnings. But if I get started talking about Donald Trump and threats masquerading as jokes, I might never stop.
Instead, let’s talk about what it’s going to take to defeat not only Trump but also his agenda, up and down ballots all across this country, in November. That’s the only way to turn this nation away from his brand of pyramid-scheme politics.
I’ve talked about black voters as the Democratic Party’s political spark plug because we are the essential ingredient to ballot box success, and I’m going to keep saying it. I’m going to keep uplifting the most consequential constituency of my generation, and reminding anyone and everyone who’s listening that our vote matters because it’s that important.
But while I talk about black women as the richest source of Democratic loyalty and stability, and black men as the swing demographic, particularly when we vote in numbers, I also want to talk about younger black voters.
Now I have to admit, I can’t always keep up with the generational alphabet soup and sometimes mix my millennials with Generation Y or Gen Z. So, for simplicity’s sake, let’s abandon the micro-targeting for a second and focus on black voters under 40. That’s not to say that these groups don’t have different concerns, or that the same outreach strategy that engages a 38-year-old black man will work for, say, a sophomore at Spelman College.
Let’s be clear: Each group is individual, unique and important in its own right. But together, they hold a strength that is unlike anything we’ve seen since the baby boomers. Together, they’re pivotal.
It’s like hip hop philosopher 2 Chainz says: We need “each and erry one of ’em.”
Believe me, our vote matters. Here are some facts:
- Young voters, particularly young minority voters, helped drive President Obama’s victory with a 48.5 percent turnout in 2008.
- For the first time in 20 years, black voter turnout as a whole declined in 2016 (59.6) from 2012 (66.6 percent).
- While millennial voter turnout increased by more than 4 percent from 2012 to 2016, turnout among black millennials actually decreased by the same margin.
- Millennials made up 25.5 percent of the electorate in 2016.
- In 2020, millennials are anticipated to make up well over a third (36.5 percent) of the electorate, while roughly 43 percent of eligible voters in America are under 45.
- Millennial voter turnout nearly doubled from 2014 to 2018 and, combined with Gen X and younger, outvoted baby boomers and older generations by 1.1 million votes.
What does all that mean? Simple this: When young voters, particularly young black voters, turn out and vote Democrat, we win. When they don’t, we lose.
When they do, Democrats take over the House. When they don’t, we get Donald Trump.
Of course, making sure young black voters come out to cast their ballots — and cast them blue — is no simple feat. After all, these are some of the folks who’ve led weeks of nationwide protests in the midst of a plague. It’s a mistake to think young white voters are the only liberals walking around.
They’re sick of the lip service and half-measures that, for too long, have dominated the public debate around justice reform, climate change and education — particularly making college more affordable. But a progressive platform that includes the Green New Deal, tuition-free college, raising the minimum wage and legalizing marijuana isn’t enough.
It isn’t just bold stances on these issues that attract young voters to the likes of Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSunday shows preview: Coronavirus dominates as country struggles with delta variant Democrats urge Biden to commute sentences of 4K people on home confinement Briahna Joy Gray: Push toward major social spending amid pandemic was 'short-lived' MORE (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOn The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Pelosi plows full speed ahead on jam-packed agenda Photos of the Week: Renewable energy, gymnast testimonies and a Met Gala dress Ocasio-Cortez, Bush push to add expanded unemployment in .5T spending plan MORE (D-N.Y.). It’s the willingness of these elected officials to not only reach out to young voters, but also to listen to them. It’s not just about making them feel like they matter; it’s about recognizing that they actually do matter. It’s about listening to what they say — honestly listening — and then taking action.
That’s one reason former vice president Joe BidenJoe BidenSunday shows preview: Coronavirus dominates as country struggles with delta variant Did President Biden institute a vaccine mandate for only half the nation's teachers? Democrats lean into vaccine mandates ahead of midterms MORE has been working with leaders such as Sanders and AOC. That’s why he’s reaching out to younger voters — and listening.
That’s a strategy that goes beyond winning an election, to mobilizing a generation.
That’s how we win in November and keep winning. That’s how we beat Donald Trump and the neo-Confederates. We don’t play by their rules. We make our own.