Lip Service: The Democratic Party’s (Historic) Attempt to Pacify Black Voters

The 1960 presidential election marked a major shift in campaign tactics and constituency building. It was Richard Nixon, running against his political rival, John F. Kennedy, and neither man wanted more than to pulverize the other. The year 1960 was smack-dab in the middle of the Second Great Migration, or the massive exodus of Africa Americans out of the American South and into Northern cities like Chicago and Baltimore. The 1960 election was also on the heels of important civil rights victories such as 1954’s Brown v. Board of Education and the 1957 Civil Rights Act. America was reluctantly dealing with race, and it was forcing itself into its politics. Nixon and Kennedy knew the northern Black vote would be crucial in swinging the election. Kennedy was proactive, and while on the campaign trail, vowed to make Black voting rights a top priority. To prove his commitment, he even commissioned the creation of a voting rights bill to be sent to Congress upon his election.

This election cycle has seen a similar, forceful, inclusion of race and minority rights. Both parties have recognized the value of the minority vote and have ungracefully danced around immigrant rights and police brutality. Democrats, the party expected to embrace minority rights, have been particularly non-committal, inconsistent, and awkward in their attempt to address issues put forward by the #BlackLivesMatter and #SayHerName movement.

Each major candidate has had unflattering run-ins with protesters. Martin O’Malley responded to protesters by yelling, “All lives matter!” while Hillary Clinton’s tense and dismissive interaction with #BlackLivesMatter protesters left many liberals disappointed. It even took #BlackLivesMatter protesters interrupting a Bernie Sander’s rally before his campaign took a hard stance on police brutality and minority rights.

On Friday, the Democratic National Committee attempted to “clear the air” and solidify its stance by passing a resolution supporting the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

The resolution states, “[T]he DNC joins with Americans across the country in affirming ‘Black lives matter’ and the ‘say her name’ efforts to make visible the pain of our fellow and sister Americans as they condemn extrajudicial killings of unarmed African American men, women and children.”

While the DNC’s resolution is…fine, it has not stopped the extrajudicial killing of Black or brown bodies. It has not brought to justice to the murderers of Trayvon Martin, of Michael Brown, of Sandra Bland, or Jonathan Ferrell. It has not put an end to the intentional legalized discrimination and enslavement that is our mass incarceration system.

The DNC resolution is not for victims of state sponsored violence and domestic terrorism. Instead, it will provide easy political cover to “pro-minority” candidates who have a difficult time addressing systemic racism. This resolution is for establishment liberals who want the Black vote but do not want to upset donors.

Kennedy’s 1960 campaign tactic worked. He was elected; largely in part to the Black northern vote. But the voting rights bill created during the campaign was never sent to Congress. Kennedy, along with others, would urge Black Americans to “wait” for their rights. It would take the beatings and murders of countless Black bodies until the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965.

The DNC resolution will not result in policy. It will save not one life. It is unlikely that the next president will make any progress in truly reforming a criminal justice system that see’s it’s own citizens as the enemy. Change will not come in the form of a politically safe letter paying lip service to millions of socially disenfranchised Americans. The sooner we recognize this type of politics as an attempt to pacify the masses, the better.

081711-national-martin-luther-king-leaders-robert-kennedy-lyndon-johnson
(From left to right) King, Bobby Kennedy, Roy Wilkins, and LBJ

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