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Loss of Black political power

By Virgie Rollins

Across the nation, African Americans are losing their political power. Michigan, California, Maryland, New York and the District of Columbia are all poised for significant loss of Black legislators due to redistricting and corruption.

The U.S. Constitution demands that all 435 House districts be redrawn every 10 years, a situation that has allowed Republicans to use redistricting as a tool to eliminate as many Democrats as possible. Unfortunately, Black politicians are more vulnerable to the effects of gerrymandering than their white counterparts. They have a more difficult time raising funds to run for public office and many have very liberal voting records that make them quite unattractive to the moderate and independent voters who decide elections in this country.

As a result of the newly redrawn congressional districts, John Conyers (D-MI), Hansen Clarke (D-MI) Sanford Bishop (D-GA) and other African American politicians face new districts filled with unfamiliar and largely unfriendly faces. Here in Michigan residents are in danger of losing both their Black legislators, a situation that would leave the Michigan delegation devoid of minority members for the first time in more than 30 years.

In 2008, Barack Obama made U.S. history by becoming the first African American president. An accomplishment that many hoped would make it easier for Black politicians to get elected to office. In reality, Blacks are losing ground. According to the Congressional Black Caucus, Black political representation is only 8.1 percent in the U.S. House and 0 percent in the Senate.

Since it’s more difficult for Blacks to capture and maintain power, the impact of any loss of political power is multiplied tenfold. Detroit’s nearly 25 percent drop in population over the past decade translates into one less seat in the U.S. House of Representatives for the Michigan delegation. However, in compliance with the Voting Rights Act, two of the remaining districts are required to contain a minority majority, thus preventing a significant loss of Black political power and influence.

The Voting Rights Act was crafted to preserve Black political representation in Congress but Blacks in Michigan have done very little to ensure their own political clout. We have not met with democratic leaders to ensure Black candidates have the financial backing needed to get elected. Nor have we identified promising, young African Americans, who could be groomed to become public servants. Now, we find ourselves at a crossroad. Who will represent the political interest of African Americans in two of the least affluent districts in the country? Who will fight for educational and economic opportunities that give Blacks access to well-paying jobs? Can African Americans really trust their political, educational and economic future to others?

Virgie M Rollins, Chair
African American Caucus Democratic National Committee

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