Funny, Black people say that their vote doesn’t matter on a national level. Even after the results of this 2020 election and the importance of the Black vote in winning for the Democratic elect, this common slogan will continue to be spread. Well, we’ll check the validity of this statement with four Acts that were passed under 3 Presidents that have significantly effected the Black Community since the 1970s— on a National level and how your Black vote counted.
In 1970 with Richard Nixon as President we have the beginning the War on Drugs with his signing of The Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970. This coupled with the Rockefeller Laws later in the decade started a “tough on crime” attitude toward drug abuse that was adopted on the State level throughout the country. Black people had 5 Congressman in 1970. Having 5 congressman out of 535, does not reflect the demographic of America or a significant voice of opposition within Congress when Bills that may be detrimental to the Black community are proposed. We vote for our legislators (congressman), they propose Bills, they either support or oppose the Bill through their votes in the House and Senate, and the president elect either signs or veto the Bill. John Conyers, serving in the House at the time, voted against this Bill.
The next year, 1971, African-Americans saw a significant jump in the number of seats we won in Congress. This prompted the formation of the Congressional Black Caucus which was composed of the 13 newly elected members of Congress. A great step forward but still a ways to go.
A decade later, Reagan signs The Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 and the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 effectively expanding penalties on weed and creating the crack-cocaine disparities, expanding The War on Drugs. At the the same time his administration allowed loads of coke to enter our neighborhoods during the Iran-Contra affair and introducing mandatory minimums.
Between that time and 1994, the US has some of the highest crime rates in history, drug abuse was an epidemic, and gangs began controlling the drug trade in the big cities and around the country. By 94, white, black, Dem, GOP everybody was trying to clean up the crime riddled mess these Bills caused in its wake, they pass The Crime Bill which included 3 Strikes, in which some, like Jesse Jackson, opposed. We had 31 Black members in Congress.
Michael Fortner, a professor of urban studies at the City University of New York and the author of the 2015 book Black Silent Majority, says in an interview “ There were certainly liberals who opposed some elements of the bill, particularly the death penalty element and the three-strikes element. Jesse Jackson is interesting because he was throughout that year opposed to the bill—that’s true. But many black leaders didn’t agree with everything in the bill at first but made peace with it despite their misgivings..”
He goes on to quote a letter from a pastor to the Congressional Black Caucus stating, “While we do not agree with every provision in the crime bill, we do believe and emphatically support the bill’s goal to save our communities, and most importantly, our children.”
We know what that did…
The failures of these 4 Acts to effectively tackle the issue of Crime and Drug Abuse ultimately caused a surge of Black families into Welfare dependency under the 1937 Aid to Families with Dependent Children program or AFDC. Initially an effective means of fighting the Great Depression, it was eventually highly criticized for its encouragement of unwed-motherhood with its disincentives for marriage. Women who married or who had a steady spouse could have their benefits reduced or simply taken away, the movie Claudine featuring Diahann Carroll and James Earl Jones highlights the issues that Black people faced under this program.
The difference between now and then, is representation and political awareness. Prior to 1970, their were no significant number of Black people in Congress since the 1800s, in 1970 during the 91st Congress there were only 5 Black members. During the 92nd Congress, there was 13 Black people in Congress. During the 103rd Congress there were 31 Black people, one being a senator. At the present time, there are 58 out 535, Black people in Congress, 3 being senators—or about 10%. While this does not end racism and oppression, nor does it mean be beholden to one party because some of these Bills were proposed and passed by Democrats, it is a step forward to progression within our government to have more representation due to participation and voting. With more representation in Congress, we have a greater chance of striking down Legislation that will be a detriment to our community.
We’re just beginning to get back what we lost during Jim Crow. The 70s ushered in a new era of representation in our government and political awareness among our people. Because of the progress mentioned above, groups like ADOS, the CWBA, and BLM have been able to make the strides towards achieving their goals when lobbying for specific legislation and plan initiatives.
Moral of the story, the more people we vote for that represents our interest in Congress, the least likely shit like that will happen again, and more likely our interest will be heard. Whether Black people run for office in the GOP or DNC, it is in our interest to have representation within our government that will promote our interest, otherwise we just have to take what’s given. This is only one aspect of why voting matters. And this article doesn’t even touch on the judicial, economic, and power aspect of voting and participating in government, those are topics for new articles for another day.