The 2014 elections are almost here, and the focus is whether the Republicans can gain control of the U.S. Senate, a first since 2006.
Thirty-six seats are being contested, and Republicans need only six gains to win a majority.
The stakes are extraordinarily high for the nation. But for African Americans in particular, the outcome of the midterm elections next month may not only be a game changer, but also a game ender.
First off, Republicans consistently oppose civil rights legislation. A GOP majority in the Senate would also likely put in jeopardy measures that help moderate and low-income Americans, including one essential initiative: an increase in the national minimum wage.
The current rate is a poverty wage of $7.25 an hour.
President Obama wants to increase it to $10.10 in three stages. We believe a living minimum wage of $15 is needed. But if the Republicans control both houses of Congress, the outlook for any significant increase will be grim.
Further, last June, the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. This means that states and localities with a history of voting discrimination against minorities no longer have to submit proposed changes in voting rules to the U.S. Department of Justice. Clearly, this makes it much easier for Republicans to erode the Black vote, which, by the way, is overwhelmingly Democratic.
Since the Supreme Court’s decision, eight of the fifteen states released from the submission requirement have made voting harder by establishing photo ID requirements, cutting voting hours, purging voting roles, or ending same-day registration. The Supreme Court’s decision can be reversed by legislative action, but that won’t happen if the Republicans recapture the Senate.
Equally alarming are the likely consequences on the health of many African Americans and modest- and low-income American workers if the Republicans win. The President’s Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, will be more vulnerable to the Republicans’ efforts to erode or eliminate it if there is a GOP Senate.
Similarly disruptive will be a Republican Senate’s power to block Obama judicial nominations. Such a majority is certain to force Obama to compromise and propose more conservative judges than otherwise. The ripple effect would mean more federal rulings adversely affecting racial and ethnic minorities, women, workers, organized labor, and all of society’s more vulnerable
Lastly, since the 1960s, the number of Blacks attending college has increased dramatically. But so has its soaring costs. Most students leave undergraduate schools with debts in the tens of thousands of dollars from borrowing to pay for tuition and fees. Obama has taken executive action to cap monthly payments, in many cases, at a low percentage rate based on the graduate’s income. But legislative action for further relief would be much more difficult with Republicans ruling Congress.
Fortunately, there is something that Black voters can do. In many close Senate races, Blacks constitute a significant proportion of the population: 32% in Louisiana; 31% in Georgia; 22% in North Carolina; 16% in Arkansas; 14% in Michigan; and 8% percent in Kentucky.
In 2012, Black voter turnout was higher than that for Whites – a first. Translation: A higher proportion of registered Black voters (66.2%) cast ballots than the proportion of White voters (64.1%). This was also true for the great majority of the southern states where Blacks are most concentrated.
That year, Black turnout was 1.7 million votes greater than in 2008, an increase of nearly 10%. But caution is advised. The African-American vote has typically dipped dramatically during off-year elections. Reversing this tendency is made more difficult by the new strategic voting restrictions.
More than ever, organizations like the NAACP, the A. Philip Randolph Institute and the AFL-CIO and its affiliated unions need to rise to the task. Without strong voter education, and get-out-vote programs, Blacks, workers, and all ordinary Americans will be shoved backward like no other time in the modern era.
This year, more Democratic than Republican Senate seats are up for grabs. In 2016, that ratio will be reversed. And if the GOP gains the Senate, Republicans will have a good chance to grab the White House and the full Congress. That would be a trifecta of bad bets.
In this race for a bright, inclusive American future of racial equality and economic justice, we have to do more than cheer for winners, we must on Nov. 4 show up, stand up and be counted. Vote.
Norman and Velma Hill have spent a lifetime in the trenches and high offices of the American civil rights and modern labor movements. Norman was the staff coordinator of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, initiated by A. Philip Randolph and organized by Bayard Rustin, is presently President Emeritus of the A. Philip Randolph Institute. Velma is a former Vice President of the American Federation of Teachers and the former Civil Rights and International Affairs Director of the Service Employees International Union. They are currently in the process of writing a memoir titled Climbing Up the Rough Side of the Mountain, due for publication in early 2014. The memoir reflects the importance of A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin in our lives, particularly their role as our mentors and as leaders in the continuing struggle for racial equality and economic justice.