Black Lives Matter Calls for Additional Democratic Debates

Black Lives Matter Calls for Additional Democratic Debates

Earlier today, the Black Lives Matter national network released a statement petitioning the Democratic National Committee to add more debates to the 2016 Democratic primary schedule, including a debate targeted specifically at addressing racial justice and #BlackLivesMatter.

The DNC has scheduled only six debates for the 2016 primary season, with the next taking place on November 14. The petition (which can be read in full at Color of Change) argues that black voters “who (reluctantly) give our votes to the Democratic Party deserve more robust forums on issues of particular concern to our communities, at home and abroad.”

The activists cite a 2014 report from the Center of American Progress as evidence of the political importance of black voters, noting that “in 2012, Black women voted at a higher rate than any other group, across ethnicity, gender and race.” As the CAP report details, Barack Obama captured the White House in 2012 with 55 percent of the total women’s vote—despite the fact that only 42 percent of white female voters chose him. Report author Maya Harris found that women of color help Democrats in off-year elections as well—Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe won 91 percent of black women’s votes in 2013, significantly more than the 38 percent of white women’s votes he captured. The petition also notes that black men vote at relatively high proportions—a claim supported by census data from the 2012 election.

The release of the petition is largely fueled by less-than-enthusiastic responses from black activists in the days after last week’s first Democratic debate. Activists were particularly frustrated that racial justice had very limited time in the spotlight at the debate, and that the candidates failed to offer specific policy proposals aimed at racial justice. In his post-debate commentary, Jamil Smith of The New Republic wrote, “Black voters aren’t looking for inspiration on this issue as much as we are substance,” calling the debate a “squandered opportunity.” 

It appears that the petition’s signatories agree with Smith’s assessment. In a statement to Buzzfeed, Elle Hearns of the Black Lives Matter network and GetEQUAL said, “What we’re demanding [from the candidates] is for more substance, not just rhetoric, because we know that a lot of the candidates are depending on black voters.” Buzzfeed noted that Hearns also suggested that the Democratic candidates expand the range of issues they discuss to include “black trans women, incarceration rates, police violence, ‘economic disenfranchisement,’ and efforts to defund Planned Parenthood.”

Last week, I wrote that “activists still have a lot of work to do” when it comes to making racial justice a significant issue in 2016. With today’s campaign, Black Lives Matter activists are showing that they are up to the challenge.