Commentary

Want more Pa. Black voters to vote progressive? Here’s how | Michael Coard

It starts with Black voters taking charge of their own progressive movement — and with white progressives being less paternalistic

May 21, 2023 6:30 am
A voting sign in Philadelphia

A voting sign in Philadelphia. (Capital-Star photo by Michala Butler)

Helen Gym, a genuine progressive who I enthusiastically endorsed, lost in Tuesday’s Democratic mayoral primary in Philadelphia not because she wasn’t preeminently qualified but because progressivism — although a great political ideology — has a messaging/messenger problem. 

Both message and messengers  are almost exclusively white. 

As I posted on my Twitter and Instagram accounts on May 17:                                                                                           

“First of all, Cherelle Parker must be congratulated for her historic and landslide victory. She crushed everybody- including my endorsed progressive candidate. Second, progressives- including me- must lick our wounds and rally around Democrat Parker in November to defeat reactionary Republicanism citywide as well as statewide and nationwide. Third, just as the rent is ‘too damn high,’ the progressive party (although genuinely well-intentioned) is ‘too damn white.’ We gotta change that by recruiting more Blacks in progressive party leadership positions. The days of white paternalism and white maternalism, even from the left, are dead- or should be.” 

Before I continue discussing this clearly racial — but certainly not racist — problem and proposing a solution, allow me to explain what a progressive is.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as a person who advocates for “political change and especially social improvement.”

In practical terms, it’s best described as a left-leaning type of liberalism. And by “left-leaning,” I mean the opposite of right-leaning reactionism (i.e., going back to the bad old days of blatant racism and other forms of systemic intolerance) and I also mean the opposite of centrism/conservatism (i.e., enabling/maintaining the stagnant status quo).

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The bottom line is that a progressive is a person who engages in or advocates for enlightened (aka “woke”) grassroots activism.

During slavery, abolitionists were progressives. During Jim Crow, civil rights marchers were progressives. During the era when women weren’t allowed to vote, suffragettes were progressives. Progressives seek societal progress based on evolving standards of decency.

Well, if that’s true — and it certainly is — why aren’t Blacks voting for progressive candidates in massive numbers?

The answer is obvious: the white architects and white leaders and white soldiers of today’s progressivism either talk down to Black voters or, even worse, don’t talk to us at all.

Therefore, for the average Black person, the choice seems always to be between (A) the establishment Democratic candidates whose only mission is to sometimes kinda/sorta try to stop things from getting worse for us or (B) the Confederate flag-waving, DEI-hating, Trump-type-promoting Republican candidates whose only mission is to go back to the 1950s Jim Crow era.

Blacks need to become part of the progressive movement.

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Actually, we need to become leaders of our own exclusively Black progressive movement that focuses exclusively on Black issues. I agree one hundred percent with Malcolm X who in 1964 said, “Whites can help us, but they can’t … [lead] us. There can be no Black-White unity until there’s first some Black unity. We cannot think of uniting with others until we have first learned to unite amongst ourselves.”

By quoting Malcolm, I’m not saying or implying  — and he wasn’t saying or implying — that Black progressives and white progressives (as well as all other progressives from all other ethnic groups) should not unite to form a broad-based coalition. Quite the contrary, we should and must unite in the battle against white supremacy.

However, Black people first have to get our act together by removing the shackles of religion, class, gender, gender identity, and sexual preference that divide and conquer us.

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It should be easy to get Black people  to reject the stagnant/status quo policies of establishment Democratic candidates and embrace the liberating policies of progressive Democratic candidates. I should mention that I’m referencing Democratic candidates only because they are clearly the lesser of two evils when compared with Republican candidates.

However, as soon as we get enough political strength within the relatively tolerant Democratic Party to go independent, we should leave it and form what I’m preliminarily calling the Nat Turner/Harriet Tubman Black Progressive Party (NTHTBPP).

And our NTHTBPP would create a policy agenda in Pennsylvania that continues on the path of the Black Panther Party’s “Ten Point Platform” in Oakland in 1966, the Black Power Convention in Newark in 1967, the Republic of New Africa in Detroit in 1969, and the National Black Political Convention in Gary in 1972.

Moreover, our NTHTBPP would focus on many of the same policies that the current white-dominated progressives fight for, some of which include but are not nearly limited to the following:

  1. Expansion of voting rights
  2. Implementation of livable minimum wage of $15-$20 an hour
  3. Reparations (but not cash payouts)- instead, reparations via free quality education through college or trade school, first-rate health care, small business start-up funding, tax waivers, enhanced affirmative action, etc.
  4. End to Philly-style “Stop & Frisk”
  5. End to police qualified immunity
  6. Defunding (actually “Defanging”) police departments’ bloated budgets
  7. Increased anti-crime funding for drug rehab, mental health, proper schooling, and paid job training programs
  8. Creation of community policing initiatives
  9. Bail reform
  10. End to mass incarceration
  11. End to capital punishment
  12. End to gentrification and creation of affordable and safe public housing
  13. End to anti-Black/Brown and pro-White immigration policies
  14. Protection of women’s human right to control their own body
  15. Fight international oppression

I’m not naive. I know this progressive movement is never going to unite all Blacks. Hell, the civil rights movement didn’t unite all Blacks.

But in the war against white supremacy (as in any war), you don’t always go to battle with the army you want. Instead, you go to battle with the army you have. And if our army consists of only half of all eligible Black voters or 25 percent or  just ten percent, then so be it.

Let’s start in Philadelphia and Allegheny Counties and then spread throughout the entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.    

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Michael Coard
Michael Coard

Opinion contributor Michael Coard, an attorney and radio host, is a columnist for the Philadelphia Tribune. His work appears regularly on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. Readers may follow him on Twitter @michaelcoard.

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