Black Voters Say They Will Hold Biden To His Promise To Have Their Back
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
When he delivered his victory speech earlier this month, President-elect Joe Biden made clear that, more than anyone else, it was Black voters who saved his once-struggling campaign and delivered him the presidency.
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JOE BIDEN: And especially those moments when this campaign was at its lowest end, the African American community stood up again for me. You always had my back, and I'll have yours.
KELLY: As NPR's Adrian Florido reports, many Black Americans say they now plan to hold the incoming president to that promise.
ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: As he watched Joe Biden's speech, Cavalier Johnson says he was struck by how emphatically the president-elect credited Black voters, even pounding the lectern for dramatic effect.
CAVALIER JOHNSON: He went out of his way to do something that you typically don't hear presidents do.
FLORIDO: Johnson is president of the Common Council in Milwaukee, where a huge surge of Black voters turned Wisconsin blue again. African Americans did that in other crucial swing state cities, with Detroit, Philadelphia and Atlanta coming out big for Biden.
JOHNSON: There's an acknowledgment on his end and an expectation from African Americans across the country to say, OK, we really expect the White House to turn around and to deliver for the people. They gave him the votes. The incoming administration has to know that, and they have to, you know, make sure that they deliver because folks are going to be watching.
FLORIDO: During the race, Biden released what his campaign called a plan for Black America, outlining proposals for economic investment in Black businesses and communities, criminal justice reform and homeownership - the sorts of things that Cavalier Johnson's colleague on the city's council, Milele Coggs, says are the top of the list for their constituents.
MILELE COGGS: Many people in our community wait with bated breath because we also recognize that there is a Congress and there is a Senate whom many of the things that he would like to do would have to be run through.
FLORIDO: But she says that even if he can't get Congress behind him, Biden could and should use his executive power to move his promises along. And she says he should send clear signals with appointments to key positions in the federal bureaucracy at the Department of Labor and Housing and at the Justice Department.
COGGS: Here in Wisconsin, one of the things that we're battling at this moment is COVID-19 in particular and its impact on the Black community. And I do also think that the COVID-19 response that he can help shape and mold could be huge as well.
FLORIDO: Many Black leaders have recognized that the Biden administration will have a hard time reconciling the wide range of demands coming from different corners of Black America. For example, last summer's racial justice protests elevated a demand to defund or dismantle police departments. Many African Americans support the idea. Many don't. Nurah Abdulhaqq has spent months working on get-out-the-vote efforts in Atlanta and says as much as she wants to see police defunded, she's also tempering her expectations.
NURAH ABDULHAQQ: I don't think that they're going to impose any radical change on this country, especially because Joe Biden has described himself as a transition president.
FLORIDO: But she says that doesn't mean she and other young, liberal Black people will stop putting pressure on the new administration. Earlier this month, leaders of Black Lives Matter wrote to the president-elect, requesting a meeting.
ABDULHAQQ: We didn't win just because Kamala Harris is a Black woman and Joe Biden was a Black man's vice president. We have to keep winning in ways that actually matter to us.
FLORIDO: Maurice Mitchell directs the Working Families Party, a group that seeks out progressive candidates for office. He's also a longtime Black Lives Matter organizer.
MAURICE MITCHELL: All of the work that the Movement for Black Lives, you know, did in order to mobilize thousands of volunteers on the streets - I shudder to imagine 2020 when the Movement for Black Lives wasn't in motion.
FLORIDO: He said this gives the movement significant leverage, and he and many Black activists plan to use it.
Adrian Florido, NPR News.
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