The New York Times recently wrote that Black voters are the Democrats’ only chance to save the Senate. That means that instead of accepting low midterm turnout among progressive voting blocs - including voters of color - as a bygone conclusion, we need to get serious about investing in the organizations and leaders who are driving electoral change in these communities. Kirk Clay, PowerPAC+ Senior Advisor shares his insight with PowerPAC+'s Sophie Rane on what the progressive movement needs to do in order to authentically engage voters of color.
This interview is Part 2 of our series on GOTV efforts in the 2014 midterm elections. Read more of Kirk's interview in "Why Black Voter Engagement is Driving Election Results."
Sophie Rane: What policy issues are particularly motivating this year for people of color and progressive voters?
Kirk Clay: Everyone had their eye on immigration reform, and not for the reasons the media is talking about, but because it seemed like that was a test of bipartisanship, that was a test of common sense. If that issue could pass, it would send a signal to the progressive community that the conservative wing of our government had gotten the point after the shutdown, and now there’s a way for us to work together to do some good things. But that didn’t happen. Immigration reform was thrown off the table because there were just so many interests that were pulling from different sides than the progressive side that it created a panic and it created a crisis-type situation, so we couldn’t even get something that bipartisan people were together on done. So it was put on the shelf.
Another issue that I think is out there constantly bubbling is poverty. This is the point where people are sick and tired of being sick and tired of trying to figure out poverty, and we want to just end poverty. There are a couple of key issues and pieces of legislation that we have seen no movement on at all, and that are really starting to take hold in the people of color community.
One is paid sick leave. Paid sick leave ensures that a parent whose child gets sick, that parent can take care of that kid without having to worry about missing a check. The reason why that’s important is that if they miss that check, they have a food security and a housing security problem, because they have to choose whether or not they will eat that night or save up the money for the end of the month so they can pay rent. And it’s all because their kid got sick. Well, the mayors and congress and the local elected officials, they can do something about that. They can make sure that paid sick leave is just a standard.
Then, minimum wage – a living wage. If we had a living wage, some of these things I just talked about wouldn’t even be an issue because we would have money put away so that if we did have to take off time to take care of our children, we could take off time and just pull money from our savings. But, at this point, everyone’s living check-to-check.
The last issue I would touch on is, of course, access to quality education. That’s one of those blue line issues that’s always out there, but people of color – Latinos, Africans Americans – we’re constantly looking at that issue because the majority of our children are going to attend public school. Because of that, we know that those public schools have to be equipped to take our children to the next level. In order for people to truly get out of poverty and find justice, they have to have sustainable wealth. You have to have transitional wealth, the wealth that takes you away from living check-to-check. And the only way to do that is to get a quality education so that you can obtain a more stable, better-paying job. And the only way that’s going to happen is for those public schools to actually do better.
So when they go to the polls, they’re going to make decisions based on these kitchen table issues. I think once the progressive community starts to talk to them in an authentic way about these issues, the things that really, really matter to people of color, they’re not going to have a consistent voter turnout problem.
Do you think there are any candidates, campaigns or voting groups this year that are doing a particularly good job of talking to voters about these ‘kitchen table issues’ in an authentic way?
I think Nina Turner in Ohio. I think if she had more resources, she could get her message out to even more people. If you look at the core of her campaign, she’s talking about those issues that I just talked about. She’s on very, very firm footing, and she has a very progressive, understanding voice. That’s helping her attract a lot of voters, and it’s not just people of color, it’s working class whites as well.
How can the progressive movement overcome the voter suppression tactics that have arisen in these key areas, particularly in communities of color?
What Stacey Abrams is doing down in Georgia is a sample of it, just reminding people that there are folks trying to take our vote away and trying to take our voice away. I think that’s mobilizing in itself, because once people feel like they’re losing something, they tend to care a little more about it or at least pay a little more attention to it.
But the silver bullet to everything we’re talking about is early voting, and that’s why GA123 is so important. The reason why it’s the silver bullet is because if your voter suppression tactic is voter ID, and somebody is voting early, in a number of places you don’t have to provide that ID when you cast an early vote – if you’re voting by mail, for example. Even if you do have to show some form of ID, you get a full month or so to get it right and figure it all out.
They’ve killed the engine of the Voting Rights Act, so now we have to get smarter and start to vote early. Once we start voting early, you’ll clean the rolls, first of all. Meaning, all the people you know usually vote and who we have no problem getting to vote, they’re in the bank. Now you can concentrate on those hard-to-reach people. You’re not wasting money trying to message Grandma, because Grandma’s already cast her ballot, we knew she was going to cast it. Now we can start working with Grandma’s nephew.
In terms of innovation, what’s happening in states like Colorado and Oregon is amazing. They are sending ballots to people automatically – that’s huge. Now it’s like a Census campaign. If all voters in America got an early vote ballot in the mail, now we’re just calling people at our leisure, saying “You’ve got the ballot, it’s sitting on your refrigerator – did you fill it out yet?” That’s the campaign. Radio stations could remind listeners every day. That would increase voter turnout because everyone already has access to a ballot. That, to me, is the future.