Beyond the Election: Influential Black Voices Look at Issues Facing Black Communities Post-Election

Compiled by Ida Harris

In the past four years, President Donald Trump has emboldened the white supremacist voice and attitude; upended the executive office with Twitter tirades, impeachment hearings, the undoing of critical, social policy; and mishandled the nation's deadly encounter with a global pandemic.

As it stands, Black people reside in a country that must be convinced Black lives matter and are to be taken seriously. The American justice system continues to fail African Americans. On Sept. 24, a Louisville, Ky., grand jury could not bring itself to indict three white officers for the shooting death of Breonna Taylor. On average, Black women and men face police-involved fatalities over three times more than white people, according to a recent study from the journal PLOS One. As of 2014, Black people made up 34 percent of the U.S. carceral population and were imprisoned five times the rate of white people. Education, health care, housing and mortality statistics were equally abysmal.

Though behemoth in weight, these are just a modicum of issues that burden Black communities. A pressing question then is what should be the African American focus post-election? The Crisis asked influential Black voices to weigh in. They lay bare futurity where full Black liberation thrives. Their respective approach requires African American desire, participation and the ability to envision transformation—not change.

Hari Ziyad, author/human rights activist

Hari Ziyad

For many Black activists and organizers in the United States, the probable changes to the Supreme Court will be devastating, and they are understandably afraid of what's to come. I do not bemoan their fear. When you lose your biggest asset, fear makes sense. What doesn't make sense is insisting on investing in the same precarious assets year after year.

My hope for Black people after this election is that our work not be so reliant upon what happens in a system created based on our exploitation and enslavement. It will take great work to become completely autonomous. We can argue about how helpful it is to use the tools that this political system provides in the meantime. But what should be undeniable is that this system's tools should not be the only tools in our arsenal, to the point that we are always lost and devastated whenever they are inevitably taken away.

Reginald Dwayne Betts, poet/prison abolitionist

Reginald Dwayne Betts

The political scene is complicated on a national front. We argue that all politics are local, but I don't think we're engaging enough in the local politics. Prison is my issue. Call me a one-issue voter. When you ask [what African Americans should focus on post-election], I ask what I should be doing. I think it's really about, on the decarceration front, figuring out how to manage what punishment should look like and what immediate mercy looks like. [Decarceration is the opposite of incarceration. It is the process of reducing the number of people in custody by removing them from such institutions as prisons or mental hospitals.]

Laurie Bertram Roberts, executive director/social justice activist

Laurie Bertram Roberts

We must focus on coalition building across issues and communities of color. We cannot take our eyes off of the long-ranging goal of defeating anti-Black racism, classism and white supremist culture. This work will continue to make people uncomfortable, and we will encounter backlash even if the White House changes hands — in fact, maybe even more so, because people will believe just removing a blatant racist from office is enough, and we know that it's the quiet racism embedded in the system itself that is just as dangerous. We must be prepared for that backlash in all forms as a solid, unshakable coalition, ready to hold our allies just as accountable as our enemies.

Cirilo R. Manego, III, J.D./chief strategic partnership and advocacy officer, Black With No Chaser

Cirilo R. Manego, III

Black people have been used as political pawns in every election while never receiving the full breath of this nation’s promise. That is not a hyperbole; that is a fact. And no, one does not need to traverse the dark forest of history to glean that that is the case. Apartment walls seem to possess more value than our lives, than Black lives, than Breonna Taylor’s life. As we cast our eyes beyond the November horizon, past Election Day, we must take it upon ourselves to see the value in building platforms, systems, and communities that lean on one another. Interdependence is how we shall thrive. It is the reason Black With No Chaser was born. Controlling our narratives, free of whiteness, and centering our joy as a means of resistance is power. While I cannot speak, nor will I speak for all Black people; however, what I will say is remain hopeful, keep fighting and breathe by any means.

Rukia Lumumba, justice strategist/human rights activist

Rukia Lumumba

The next critical step towards a new Black politics is co-governance where we engage in the long-term practice to educate, motivate and organize our people to be more engaged, prepared and committed to engaging the governing process. It is a return of politics to ordinary people/residents. It requires that we reinvent what it means to do politics and what it means to be a resident. True democracy starts at the local level in assemblies. It is transparent with candidates that are nominated by the people of that community to run for office, and those candidates are 100 percent accountable to their communities; they are delegates rather than wheeling and dealing representatives.

Co-governance centers community; recognizes that community is central and not peripheral to system change. It is founded on the belief that individuals, grassroots, faith, and neighborhood organizations in local communities are most effective in doing work that is transformational; liberating. So, we must focus our efforts on building our hyper-local community spaces of co-governance. People’s Assemblies are examples of these spaces where residents of a city — regardless of their prior criminal history, immigration status, age or income — are a part of making small and big policy decisions regarding the governing of their cities. It is through these processes of community-centered and issue-based policy development that we are able to effect change and bring people’s lives to a place of full participation and equal treatment.

Kirsten West Savali, cultural critic/producer

Kirsten West Savali

Regardless of who or what political party is in office, those of us who believe in freedom will have to work toward abolition so that we break the cycle of expecting justice from the very systems that kill us. Regardless of who or what political party is in office, those of us who believe in liberation will have to push back against the rhetorical dishonesty that the system is broken, when it is functioning exactly as it was intended to function.

There is no convenient time for the urgent movements in progress. From defunding the police, dismantling the carceral state, and ending the drug war, to fighting for universal healthcare and confronting sexual violence in our institutions, communities, and homes, it will be imperative that we continue to challenge the complacency and cowardice that prevent us from imagining and creating a new way of being. Still, we must also reckon with how Donald Trump rose to power in the first place in a way that does not cast blame on the most targeted and vulnerable communities. Until liberals more committed to the “absence of tension” than the “presence of justice” stop gaslighting those of us who know that this is a nation rooted in genocide, slavery, land theft and rape, we will find ourselves here over and over again.

The façade of democracy has crumbled. What will we build in its stead?