Political Power

We demand independent Black political power and Black self-determination in all areas of society. We envision a remaking of the current U.S. political system in order to create a real democracy where Black people and all marginalized people can effectively exercise full political power. This includes:

  1. An end to the criminalization of Black political activity including the immediate release of all political prisoners and an end to the repression of political parties.
  2. Public financing of elections and the end of money controlling politics through ending super PACs and unchecked corporate donations.
  3. Election protection, electoral expansion and the right to vote for all people including: full access, guarantees, and protections of the right to vote for all people through universal voter registration, automatic voter registration, pre-registration for 16-year-olds, same day voter registration, voting day holidays, Online Voter Registration (OVR), enfranchisement of formerly and presently incarcerated people, local and state resident voting for undocumented people, and a ban on any disenfranchisement laws.
  4. Full access to technology including net neutrality and universal access to the internet without discrimination and full representation for all.
  5. Protection and increased funding for Black institutions including Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s), Black media and cultural, political and social formations.

An End to the Criminalization of Black Political Activity Including the Immediate Release of All Political Prisoners and an End to the Repression of Political Parties

What is the problem?

  • While the criminal justice system has managed to create a pipeline from schools to prisons for Black and Brown communities, it has also been used as a tool of the state to delegitimize and neutralize people’s movements throughout history.
  • The criminalization of freedom movements and activists has resulted in the incarceration of hundreds of people, many of whom are recognized as legitimate freedom fighters. Black communities have been disproportionately targeted by the state and have become political prisoners incarcerated in local, state and federal prisons. The FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) outlined the purpose, objectives, methods and tools used to criminalize freedom movements.
  • Today, direct victims of COINTELPRO (and similar law enforcement initiatives) remain exiled and incarcerated, while indirectly Black communities remain under surveillance by all levels of law enforcement with the intention of preventing the growth of another nationwide movement.
  • The tradition of surveillance and harassment of activists and freedom movements, has fostered fear, mistrust and suspicion in movement spaces that would otherwise function effectively.

What does this solution do?

  • We are calling for the release of all political prisoners held in the U.S. and the removal of legitimate freedom fighters from the International Terrorists list. Additionally, we call on Congress to hold hearings on the impact of COINTELPRO as the Church Committee hearings in 1975 did not offer remedies to individuals and communities negatively impacted by this government initiative.

Federal Action:

  • Congressional hearings on COINTELPRO designed to remedy and repair its impact.
  • Immediate release of all political prisoners in federal custody.
  • Removal of Assata Shakur from international terrorist lists.
  • Rescind the bounty on the head of Assata Shakur.

State Action:

  • Immediate release of all political prisoners in state custody. Most freedom fighters incarcerated due to COINTELPRO are elderly and currently eligible for parole. Some political prisoners have served more than four decades in prison;they are now grandparents, elderly and prepared to live the remainder of their lives at home in the communities they come from. Although they meet the parole criteria determined by the state, when they go before the parole board, they are repeatedly denied. The parole boards routinely state the reason for their denial as, “the nature of the crime.”

Local Action:

  • Cease all current investigations and cold cases into former activists. Some cities like NYC, have ongoing “unsolved.” We know of the recent indictments of activists and freedom fighters from the civil and human rights era of the 60s and 70s like;
    • Imam Jamil Al Amin (formerly known as H Rap Brown), captured in 2000
    • Kamau Sadiki, captured in 2002 for a case from 1971
    • San Francisco 8, indicted in 2007 for a case from 1971

Resources:

Authors & Contributors of this Policy Overview

  • Lumumba Bandele
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Public Financing of Elections and the End of Money Controlling Politics Through Ending Super PACs and Unchecked Corporate Donations

What is the problem?

  • Our country’s legacy of racism and persistently racialized politics depresses the political power of Black people, and creates  opportunities for exploitation and targeting — exemplified by the subprime lending crisis, mass incarceration, and voter suppression laws. The dominance of big money in our politics makes it far harder for poor and working-class Black people to exert political power and effectively advocate for their interests as both wealth and power are consolidated by a small, very white, share of the population.
  • Elections funded primarily by wealthy, white donors mean that candidates as a whole are less likely to prioritize the needs of poor and working class Black people; and that Black candidates are less likely to run for elected office, raise less money when they do, and are less likely to win. Ultimately, Black people are not adequately represented by elected officials.
  • Today, an elite and tiny donor class — comprised of an extremely wealthy, 90 percent white, and overwhelmingly male subsection of the population — determines who runs for office, who wins elections, and what policies make it onto the agendas in Washington, D.C. and state legislatures across the country
  • Because donor and corporate interests often diverge significantly from those of working families on economic policies such as minimum wage and paid sick leave, Black people are disproportionately harmed because a larger percentage are poor or working class. 
  • The dominance of white donors disadvantages Black people in two key ways. First, candidates running for office (in all races) are less likely to prioritize issues of concern to Black Americans because they are forced to spend a significant majority of their time dialing for dollars to wealthy (usually white) donors. Second, Black communities are underrepresented in elected office, as Black candidates without access to networks of wealthy (usually white) donors find it more difficult to compete in the “wealth primary” necessary to run competitive campaigns.
  • A recent study of Black candidate success concluded that “the underrepresentation of Black people is driven by constraints on their entry onto the ballot” and that the level of resources in Black communities is “an important factor for shaping the size of the Black candidate pool.”
  • Although people of color are 37 percent of the U.S. population, 90 percent of our elected leaders are white. White men are just 31 percent of the population but 65 percent of elected officials. At the other end of the spectrum, women of color hold just 4 percent of elected positions in spite of being 19 percent of the population.
  • Candidates of color raised 47 percent less money than white candidates in 2006 state legislative races, and 64 percent less in the South.
  • In 2009, just 9 percent of all state legislators were Black. 
  • In a 2011 study, researchers found that white state legislators of both major political parties were less likely to reply to letters received from assumed constituents with apparently Black names (like “DeShawn Jackson”).
  • The policy outcomes resulting from this big-money campaign finance system fail to address the needs of Black people, and in some cases, actively restrict progress on racial equity in America.

What’s the solution?

  • Implement public financing of elections at the local, state and federal levels to encourage candidates for public office to listen to constituents and help Black people —particularly those that are poor and working class —have their voices heard in the political process. 
  • Public financing of elections are campaign finance reforms that provide some type of public funding for election campaigns with the purpose of curbing the influence of political donors and special interests in our electoral process. Designed and implemented effectively, these programs can bring more racial and socio-economic diversity to the candidate pool, and improve policy responsiveness and accountability with voters.
  • How a system is designed and implemented — which includes the composition of the members and organizations who are driving the design and implementation — will have determining impacts on whether or not the system can be 1) considered a racial and economic justice reform, and 2) be used to build independent political power.
  • Because programs vary widely, it is critical that a particular system be well matched with local demographics and conditions for it to optimally serve as a racial and economic justice reform and be used to build independent political power (which usually requires effective participation by stakeholder groups in policy design). There are three types of public financing programs: a) “clean money” programs provide an equal, lump-sum grant to candidates who demonstrate sufficient public support and prohibit further fundraising; b) small donor matching programs match each small contribution to a qualifying candidate with public funds according to a specified ratio, which have been as high as six-to-one; and c) voucher, refund, or tax credit programs, which allocate public funding through contributors themselves.
  • Overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United
  • Over four decades, the Supreme Court has turned the First Amendment into a tool for use by wealthy interests to dominate the political process. Time and again, the Court has stepped in to dismantle democratically-enacted policies intended to prevent wealthy interests from translating economic might directly into political power — from 1976’s Buckley v. Valeo, which struck campaign spending limits and equated money with speech;128 to 2010’s Citizens United, which gave corporations the same speech rights as individuals and opened the door to billionaire-funded Super PACs and unlimited, undisclosed “secret” to McCutcheon v. FEC in 2014, which eliminated caps on the total amount that one wealthy donor is permitted to contribute to federal candidates, parties and PACs.
  • Ensure that newly appointed justices share the public’s common-sense understanding of the role that money should play in our electoral system.
  • Develop and promote robust interpretive frameworks that go beyond fighting corruption as compelling values that our Constitution protects.
  • Fight back in the courts to establish an enduring interpretation of the Constitution that empowers the people.
  • Pass sensible limits on the use of big money in elections

Federal Action:

  • Public Financing of Elections: 
    • Pass the Government By the People Act (H.R.20) and the Fair Elections Now Act (S.2023), which are leading proposals to bring a small donor matching system to the federal level.

Local & State Action:

  • Support legislation or ballot measures that would implement public financing of elections. Localities with current opportunities include:
    • Miami-Dade County, Florida
    • Washington, D.C.
    • Chicago, Illinois 

How does this solution address the specific needs of some of the most marginalized Black people?

  • Public financing of elections increases political equality for Black poor and working class people.
  • Makes governing bodies more representative and reflective of our communities by electing more low-and moderate-income people, more women, and more people of color, particularly Black working class people. 
  • Providing on-ramps to building independent political power by lowering the barriers to entry for candidates who wish to challenge the status quo, and creating systems that mass-based membership organizations can use to advance a political platform.
  • Making local communities, instead of large donors and corporations, the primary  constituents of elected officials. 

Model Legislation

Resources:

Contributors to this Policy Overview

  • Emmanuel Caicedo, Demos
  • Viviana Bernal, Demos
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Full Access, Guarantees, and Protections of the Right to Vote For All People Through Universal Voter Registration, Automatic Voter Registration (AVR), Pre-Registration for 16-Year-Olds, Same-Day Voter Registration (SDR), Voting Day Holidays, Online Voter Registration (OVR), Enfranchisement of Formerly and Currently Incarcerated People, Local and State Resident Voting for Undocumented People, and a Ban on Any Disenfranchisement Laws

What is the problem?

  • Participating in elections is a public good and fundamental right; a necessary element of what is means to be a free, self-governing people. Yet the U.S. has a voter participation problem. In 2012, 66 million voters chose President Obama, 61 million voted for Governor Romney, and 82 million eligible people did not vote at all. Further, the low overall voting rate is compounded by significant voter turnout gaps among different demographic groups. We see significantly less participation by low-income people, people of color, and young people compared to higher rates of participation by older and more affluent white voters. As a result, demographics of our elected officials are dominantly older, whiter, and wealthier than the actual electorate.
  • Because of the demographic gaps in voter participation, our elected officials are dominantly older, whiter and wealthier than the actual electorate they are charged to represent. These officials in turn are far more likely to be more responsive to the policy positions of older, whiter and wealthier voters. At the same time, many states have erected barriers to voting and/or maintain voting rules that discourage turnout and limit registration. These factors have cumulatively lead to policy decisions and outcomes that disproportionately (and negatively) affect people of color, poor and working class people, people with disabilities, and the elderly.
  • On June 25, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and since then Americans have had to contend with over 30 States proposing or implementing voter suppression laws across the US. These unwarranted actions to disenfranchise Black voters and a wide spectrum of other voters of color must be addressed

What does this solution do?

  • A number of legislative reforms proactively facilitate and protect the right of every person to participate in elections, by expanding and streamlining the processes of voter registration and casting a ballot. These reforms have the ultimate goal of assigning responsibility to government, instead of putting the burden on individuals, to ensure that people can participate in our electoral system. Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) and Same-Day Registration (SDR) are two major structural legislative reforms. Both ease the process of voter participation by reducing the steps required in order to be properly registered to vote, which is significant because properly registered voters are much more likely to cast ballots than non-registered voters. AVR uses voter eligibility information that certain government agencies already collect to add voters to the rolls; SDR creates a process for eligible voters to properly register and then vote, as a single transaction. Additional reforms, such as pre-registration for 16-year-olds, enfranchisement of formerly and currently incarcerated people, local and state resident voting for undocumented people, and a ban on all disenfranchisement laws, expand the range of eligible voters, while reforms such as early voting and voting day holidays expand the times and opportunities that are available to cast a ballot.
  • Online voter registration compliments AVR & SDR efforts, and grants greater access for residents who are disabled, elderly, or have other mobility issues.
  • We must also work to combat voter suppression in the form of voter ID laws. In most States across the US, college students are largely left out of the voting process where voter ID laws exist, as students are not able use their college IDs to cast ballots. We should work to eliminate voter ID laws that exclude students, immigrants, formerly incarcerated people, and others from the voting process.

Federal and State Action:

  • Federal and state governments should introduce and pass legislation to expand the pool of eligible voters (e.g., full enfranchisement for current and formerly incarcerated individuals; pre-registration of 16-year-olds; local and state resident voting for undocumented people).
  • Federal and state governments should introduce and pass legislation that streamlines voter registration processes and increases voter registration rates (e.g., AVR, SDR)
  • Federal and state governments should introduce and pass legislation that expands the times and opportunities for voters to cast ballots (e.g., early voting; voting day holidays).
  • Federal and State governments should introduce legislation to implement Online Voter Registration streamlining mobilization efforts to register voters across the US.
  • Federal and State governments should work to eliminate voter ID laws across the US, clearing the way for college students, elderly, immigrants and formerly incarcerated person to have greater access to the voting process.

How does this solution address the specific needs of some of the most marginalized Black people?

  • These reforms cumulatively provide a counterbalance against the current landscape of voter suppression efforts throughout the U.S., efforts which have disproportionately impacted Black people. Increased access to voter registration and voting can change the demographics of our electorate in ways that 1) alter the demographics of our elected officials; and 2) make our elected officials more responsive to the policy preferences of Black folks.

Model Legislation

Current Federal Actions:


Current State Actions:

  • Automatic Voter Registration: In 2016 over 23 States across the US proposed AVR bills, yet only three states passed legislation: West Virginia, Vermont, and Connecticut. Illinois’ bill was passed by lawmakers, but was recently vetoed by their Governor. California and Oregon passed legislation in 2015 and implemention process began in 2016.  
  • Voter ID: Louisiana law-makers and advocates worked to pass HB940 to allow college students in Louisiana to utilize their student IDs to cast ballots. The Governor signed the bill into law during the Spring Legislative session in 2016. House Bill 836 was recently passed in North Carolina to allow voters to cast a ballot after providing their birthdates, the last four digits of their Social Security number, and an affidavit stating that there is a “reasonable impediment” to their ability to present a photo ID.
  • Online Voter Registration: In 2016 over 32 states and the District of Columbia allow individuals to register to vote completely electronically.

 

Resources:

 

Organizations Currently Working on Policy:

  • Demos
  • Center For Popular Democracy
  • Open Democracy Project @ Crescent City Media Group

 

Authors & Contributors of this Policy Overview

  • Damon L. Daniels, Demos
  • Trupania Bonner, Open Democracy Project/Crescent City Media Group

 

**Demos contributed to the development of this policy brief, but does not endorse every single policy position taken in this brief

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Full Access to Technology — Including Net Neutrality and Universal Access to the Internet without Discrimination — and Full Representation For All

What is the problem?

  • The Internet is the most powerful and creative communications advancement of the 21st Yet, more than 100 million people in the U.S. live without it. A recent Pew Research report found that at-home broadband access for Black people is far below that of the national average. Closing the digital divide means bringing offline communities to the same Internet all of us experience.
  • In February of 2015, the Federal Communications Commission passed the strongest Net Neutrality rules in history by regulating the Internet as a utility. The CEOs of the major Internet Service Providers in the U.S. challenged these net neutrality rules in court and lost. That hasn’t stopped companies from engaging in discriminatory behavior that exposes their users to a second class Internet experience.
  • If our communities can access an open and affordable Internet, then we can shape a future that sustains our communities and is good for the country.

What does this solution do?

  • Ensure universal, affordable, and community-controlled access to the Internet, for all Black people and oppressed communities at large.

Federal Action:

  • Stop any legislation that weakens or overturns the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Net Neutrality rules and Lifeline reforms.
  • Federal agencies should adopt rules that eliminate discriminatory practices like Zero Rating that expose vulnerable communities to a second class Internet experience.
  • Expand nationwide federal programs that provide affordable or free Internet for residents of public housing.
  • Federal and state agencies should require the buildout of broadband infrastructure in housing projects that utilize public funding.
  • Federal resources should be made available to support broadband buildout in rural communities.

State Action:

  • States with their own Lifeline funds should modernize them to include support for broadband.
  • Federal and state agencies should overturn laws that prevent local municipalities from building their own broadband network, especially for rural communities.

Local Action:

  • Municipalities should allocate resources to fund digital literacy programs targeting poor communities and communities of color.
  • Local municipalities should build their own free city wide broadband networks.

Resources:

Organizations Currently Working on Policy:

  • Center for Media Justice
  • Color of Change
  • Free Press
  • 18 Million Rising
  • The Leadership Conference
  • Media Mobilizing Project
  • The Utility Reform Network
  • Native Public Media
  • National Council of La Raza
  • Center for Rural Strategies
  • American Indian Policy Inst. (ASU)

Authors & Contributors of this Policy Overview

  • Chinyere, Center for Media Justice
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Protection and Increased Funding for Black Institutions including Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Black Media, and Cultural, Political and Social Formations

What is the problem?

  • HBCUs play a crucial role in providing access to higher educational opportunities for many Black people. HBCUs represent only three percent of the nation’s four-year higher education institutions, but graduate 22 percent of Black people who earn bachelor’s degrees. These schools disproportionately enroll low-income, first-generation, and academically underprepared college students. More than 75 percent of students at HBCUs rely on Pell Grants and nearly 13 percent rely on these grants and loans to meet their college expenses. HBCUs are uniquely equipped to support these students with successful outcomes. In fact, public four-year HBCUs are the only institutions that consistently approach or achieve parity in enrollment and degree completion in the South.
  • However, these institutions lack the sufficient funding they need from the federal government, states, and private donors to survive and thrive. A 2013 report by the Association of Public Land-grant Universities (APLU) found that, from 2010 to 2012, states were failing to meet the required 100 percent match of federal funding to HBCUs. In recent years, state public HBCUs in South Carolina and Maryland have sued their respective states for receiving less funding and inequitable program offerings compared to the states’ predominantly white institutions. Moreover, HBCU endowments are one-eighth of the average size of those of historically white colleges and universities. Underfunding prevents these universities from competing for students, improving infrastructure, and increasing their offerings.
  • Black owned media organizations are struggling to survive. There are only about 200 black newspapers, only 4 major black magazines (2 of which were recently sold), very few black radio programs, and no black owned and operated full-power television stations. There is very little black television news programming, black people only make up about 10 percent of TV newsroom staff and 4.7 percent of journalists. While Black digital media has been successful and Black people have carved out spaces on Facebook and Twitter, many times the online news is on mainstream websites with a black-aimed vertical. Protecting and promoting Black-owned and operated media is critical. These organizations provide a unique and authentic perspective that reflects the diversity of views of the Black community and should be supported.
  • Black political, cultural and social organizations, especially those engaged in activism, face threats of surveillance, police violence, and arrest. For example, in August 2015, The Intercept released documents demonstrating government surveillance of people engaged in public protest or online social media activity concerning #BlackLivesMatter. These documents demonstrated that the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Bureau of Investigation tracked public protests concerning police accountability and the deaths of Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, and Eric Garner. Other reports indicate geospatial mapping of protests, emails tracking protesters’ movements, and emails between government officials discussing the dates, times, and locations of planned protest activities. Further reports reveal that law enforcement at various levels use digital tools, such as Media Sonar and Digital Stakeout, to monitor online social media activity of people who use the #BlackLivesMatter and related hashtags. Additionally, Black Lives Matter protests have been met with militarized police responses and the use of crowd-control weapons. In just the past couple of weeks hundreds have been arrested across the country during protests in response to police killings of unarmed black me

What does this solution do?

  • We seek complete open access for all to free public university, college and technical education programs (including technology, trade and agricultural) as well as full-funding for lifelong learning programs that support communities and families. This applies to nearly half of all HBCUs that are public institutions. We also seek the forgiveness of all federal student loans. Policies shall apply to all and should focus on outreach to communities historically denied access to education, including undocumented, incarcerated, and formerly incarcerated people. By protecting and supporting these institutions, we can provide a meaningful pathway to higher education and social mobility.
  • Reauthorize the 1965 Higher Education Act with increased funding for both public and private HBCUs.
  • Increase federal and state funding for HBCUs’ building maintenance and upgrades, operational budget, staffing (with incentives to hire and retain), research, and efforts to expand graduate and post-secondary courses and programming.
  • Provide institutional support to Black media
  • Protect and promote the First Amendment rights of Black Cultural, Political and Social Formations.

Federal Action:

  • Target: U.S. Congress
  • Process: Pass a bill to provide $165 billion (in 2014 the DOE provided $30 billion in grant aid, $36 billion in tax cuts and $99 billion in federal student loans) per year to states to eliminate undergraduate tuition and fees at all public universities and colleges, and assist states to cover all related living costs for students. The bill would also increase work study programs and employment opportunities for students and expand eligibility to undocumented students and incarcerated students. For more information, see the one-pager on Reparations for Systemic Denial of Access to High Quality Educational Opportunities
  • Target: U.S. Congress
  • Process: Reauthorize the 1965 Higher Education Act with increased funding for both public and private HBCUs. Pass a bill to update Title III funding formulas and increase discretionary spending for HBCUs to at least $267 million. The bill would also increase investment and and expand federal grant opportunities through the Capital Financing Program, HBCU Historic Preservation Fund Grant Program, and educational programs targeted at HBCUs.
  • Target: Executive
  • Process: The White House Initiative on HBCUs should allocate federal funding to support HBCUs’ operational budget and to strengthen operational processes, administrative capacity, student support programs, research, and collective bargaining costs (salary benefits and increases), and fundamental needs. The White House Initiative on HBCUs can also develop events and programming to provide skills to faculty, staff and administration to improve institutional capacity.
  • Target: Federal Communications Commission (especially the Diversity Advisory Committee)
  • Process: Develop programming and partnerships to support Black-owned and operated media organizations.
  • Target: Attorney General, Executive
  • Process: End surveillance of black political organizations and an audit of any surveillance that has occurred.

State Action:

  • Target: State Legislature
  • Process: Guarantee one-to-one matching of federal funding for 1890 land-grant universities. In most states, this decision is made by state legislatures, but in some states the Governor makes this decision.
  • Target: State Attorney General
  • Process: End surveillance of black political organizations and an audit of any surveillance that has occurred.

How does this solution address the specific needs of some of the most marginalized Black people?

  • HBCUs offer support and opportunities for low-income, first-generation, and academically underprepared students who may struggle or are denied opportunities in other educational environments.

Resources:

Organizations Currently Working on Policy:

  • Thurgood Marshall College Fund
  • United Negro College Fund
  • National Association for Equal Opportunity

Authors & Contributors of this Policy Overview

  • Arielle Humphries, Center for Popular Democracy
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