Column: Suburban Black voters make a difference with high turnout – Chicago Tribune

South suburban Black voters can make several statements by turning out for next week’s midterm elections.

Blacks who vote show they care about protecting hard-won civil rights. Bad faith actors have worked to suppress the vote by making it more difficult to cast ballots. Well-funded operations want to dampen enthusiasm and crush hopes that things will ever get better under Democratic rule.

Black turnout was critically important in Atlanta, Philadelphia and Detroit during the 2020 presidential election. The Black vote delivered the key states of Georgia, Pennsylvania and Michigan for Democrat Joe Biden, according to The Brookings Institution.

“Black Americans represented over 50% of all Democratic voters in Georgia (33% of state population is Black), 20% of all Democratic voters in Michigan (14% of state population is Black), and 21% of all Democratic voters in Pennsylvania (12% of state population),” according to Brookings.

The strength of Black vote turnout in densely populated metropolitan areas drives the right crazy. The fact that urban Blacks vote in high numbers is one reason Republicans like to bash big cities. That’s partly why Darren Bailey, the GOP nominee for governor, called Chicago a hellhole.

Black voters in the Southland are a big reason why Democrats enjoy one-party rule in Illinois. The concentration of likely Democratic voters on Chicago’s South Side and in the south suburbs makes this place ground zero for political power.

Consider how many federal, state and county legislative districts touch the Southland before spreading in various directions. The Black vote is why the 1st and 2nd congressional districts extend deep into farmland in Will and Kankakee counties and beyond.

At the state level, the lack of competitive districts in the region gives strength to the Legislative Black Caucus. Black lawmakers and Democratic colleagues helped pass historic legislation that addresses racial inequality in the criminal justice system.

Now Black lawmakers are being attacked for achieving part of their legislative agenda with passage of the Illinois Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity Today, or SAFE-T Act. Part of the law takes effect Jan. 1 and will eliminate cash bail, a system that penalizes lower income suspects and allows wealthier offenders to walk free.

Members of the caucus recently responded after racist lawn signs popped up in the suburbs declaring, “Do Not Let Black Caucus Write Our Laws.”

“Signs with the sort of racist and inflammatory language that we have seen this week are an obscene example of unvarnished bigotry that should remain a relic of our past,” the caucus said in a statement issued Oct. 14.

Individual members of the caucus also responded, including state Sen. Elgie Sims, D-Chicago.

“To dismiss the responsibility of members of the Black Caucus to respond to the needs of both the communities we were elected to represent as well as of our great state by ridding it of the systemic racism which is still taking place in the 21st century is offensive and wrong,” Sims said in the statement.

Sims represents the 17th District that extends from Chicago’s Chatham neighborhood through south suburban Burnham, Calumet City, Lansing, Ford Heights, Lynwood, Sauk Village, Beecher, Manteno and Grant Park near Kankakee.

Blacks tend to vote in huge numbers partly because the struggle for civil rights in the 1960s. Police used water cannons to disperse peaceful protesters at times. The assassinations of Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others showed how some paid for freedom with their lives.

Black voters are so powerful, Republicans made up lies about widespread voter fraud to enact voter suppression measures in states where they could. Republicans would love to siphon the reliable Black vote away from Democrats.

Then-candidate Donald Trump asked a question of hypothetical Black voters during a Michigan campaign stop in 2016.

“You’re living in poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58% of your youth is unemployed — what the hell do you have to lose?” Trump said.

Black voters know the answer. They know Republicans would never allow an equality minded justice like Kentanji Brown Jackson to be the first Black woman appointed to the Supreme Court if they were in power.

They know the conservative Supreme Court majority is likely to strike down affirmative action in college admissions and deliver a blow to the value of diversity in American society.

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They know the Supreme Court has weakened the 1965 Voting Rights Act and made it more difficult for states to police the racial fairness of voting laws.

It seems like the more difficult it becomes for Blacks to vote, the more determined they are to cast ballots. That’s the takeaway I got from a piece Bloomberg published last year by professors Tonja Jacobi of Northwestern Pritzker School of Law and Matthew Sag of Loyola University Chicago School of Law.

“Voters, especially those of color, waited in long lines, navigated the complexities of postal voting, endured a deluge of misinformation, and voted despite the fact that their districts are so gerrymandered that their votes count for little,” they wrote.

That’s why Black voters in Bloom, Rich, Thornton and other south suburban townships ought to turn out and cast ballots in this year’s midterm election.

If American democracy survives, it will be thanks to Black voters.

Ted Slowik is a columnist for the Daily Southtown.

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November 1, 2022 at 04:34PM

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