African Americans voted their presidential preference – provided with a detailed breakdown of different policies but no names – during a “black presidential caucus” in Liberty City last week.
Attendees voted for candidates “A, B, C or D.” After the names were revealed, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders came away with the majority.
“We’re trying to get black folks to turn out for the primaries,” said Enyer Martinez, a member of Dream Defenders and electoral justice fellow for the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL). “We’re trying to get them engaged. How can we get them engaged if they don’t know the issues?”
Black voter turnout has been on the decline since the 2016 presidential election. With the 2020 election edging closer, Dream Defenders members said they are trying to engage voters in South Florida ahead of the March 17 primary by holding events like this one.
The Miami-based organization worked with M4BL to stage the event. It was one of many happening across the country. A similar event was held in Broward County this past weekend.
Organizers detailed the polices of four candidates – Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Vice President Joe Biden – on the three issues they believe affect their community the most: housing, criminal justice and healthcare.
The twist? The names were hidden. Martinez said it’s about electing a candidate that can be challenged and held accountable.
“We keep them interested in it that way,” said Martinez.
Laughter and raised eyebrows circled the room whenever a candidate’s list consisted of little to no action on matters such as mass incarceration and gentrification. The crowd then broke into groups to discuss which aspects of an issue meant most to them.
Human rights always intrigued 26-year-old Imani Dames. She came across the ad for the event and saw the opportunity to start “working on the ground” in her community.
“I’m really hoping the ones that are more apathetic to the elections see what’s going on, see the people that are working to act in this election and get motivated to act themselves,” said Dames.
Sanders and Warren were closely tied on a number of issues. Sanders led the way in approval for his housing and criminal justice policies, while Warren came out on top for healthcare.
“This is what it takes to get somebody in office, and this is the process that we all need to learn about,” said Martinez.
Harold Jones believes it will take a lot to convince black and underprivileged people to head to the polls. Misinformation and lack of guidance kept Jones away from voting in the past, but after joining Dream Defenders, he said he’s set on creating real change.
“You see these things and think, ‘Wow, is this voting process working for us, or is it something they want us to buy into, to keep us sheep?’” said Jones.
The event ended with what Dream Defenders call power chants, a loud mixture of breathing, clapping and yelling words of affirmation.
“We have a new generation of kids coming up and I think young voter participation is very important,” said Martinez. “We’re trying to make sure that happens, and it continues to happen in the black community.”