Everything’s Political, Including a Promise

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Welcome back to Everything’s Political, Capital B’s news, culture, and politics newsletter! Every Thursday, I’ll take a look at recent stories that seem particularly noteworthy.

Here’s what I’ve got for you this week.

Biden’s Promise to Black America

Janet Jackson put it best in 1986: What have you done for me lately? Today, Black voters are asking President Joe Biden the exact same question, as the general election heats up. Long the backbone of the Democratic Party, Black voters are taking stock of the administration’s triumphs and failures in various arenas: the economy, voting rights, health care, climate, criminal justice reform, and more. Today, we’re publishing a handy progress report that explores the extent to which Biden has followed through on his pledges to Black communities. And don’t forget to check out our deep dive on the economy, which explores some of the frustrations that Black voters feel when it comes to student loan debt relief.

A Rocky Voting Rights Landscape

The past week has demonstrated just how unsettled — even unsettling — our voting rights landscape is. On Monday, the Florida State Conference of Branches and Youth Units of the NAACP and the Hispanic Federation began their federal trial against Florida challenging a 2023 state law seeking to limit the activities of third-party voter registration organizations, which play a big role in helping people of color register to vote. The trial could last up to several weeks, and depending on the outcome, the Florida case could serve as a model for other states hoping to limit Black voter power.

Days before the Florida trial began, some good news came out of the Lone Star State. Last Thursday, a Texas court overturned Crystal Mason’s five-year prison sentence. Mason was convicted in 2018 for trying to vote while on federal supervised release, though she explained that she had no idea that she was ineligible. Civil rights organizations denounced Mason’s sentence as yet one more example of Black voter intimidation.

To learn a bit more about how to protect the sanctity of the ballot box, check out a new book by Rick Hasen, a law professor at UCLA, on why enacting a constitutional amendment could safeguard the right to vote.

The Future of Wisconsin’s Elections

In the Badger State, the big question Tuesday night was: How will Wisconsinites weigh in on two Republican-backed referenda that will determine how future contests are run? Ultimately, voters said yes to prohibiting the use of private grants to help with election administration and yes to allowing only election officials to carry out certain election duties — essentially banning volunteer poll workers. Voting rights advocates saw these results as a major blow to democracy. Both measures were aimed at restricting elections in a state that Black voters helped put in the Democratic column in 2020, and are part of a broader conservative movement to limit the influence of key Democratic constituencies.

HBCUs Under Siege

The assault on HBCUs continues. Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Lee signed a bill last Thursday replacing the board of trustees at Tennessee State University, the state’s only public HBCU. GOP lawmakers in Tennessee insisted that the move was necessary because the school mismanaged money, even though TSU, like many other HBCUs, has long been underfunded and a forensic audit found no evidence of “fraud or malfeasance.” The takeover, which students and faculty say increases the school’s instability and could open it up to more issues in the future, comes weeks after a Republican lawmaker in Mississippi introduced a bill that — if it hadn’t failed — could’ve shuttered several public HBCUs in the state. There’s also a touch of irony here: Republican leaders are targeting HBCUs even as former President Donald Trump has claimed to rescue these institutions that have long been a cornerstone of Black culture.

Survivors’ Last Chance

This might be their final opportunity to find justice. The two remaining survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre — Lessie Benningfield Randle and Viola Ford Fletcher, both 109 years old — entered the Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday to fight for reparations for the assault that wiped out Tulsa’s Greenwood district, which was revered as “Black Wall Street.” The survivors have been stuck in a legal battle since 2021, hoping for restitution for the opportunities that were violently taken from them more than a century ago. Fletcher’s brother, Hughes Van Ellis, also a survivor, died at 102 last October. His passing underlines the urgency of this battle. On the one hand, the attack on Tulsa has gotten more attention in recent years, particularly on TV shows such as Lovecraft Country and Watchmen. Still, the fight seems to have lost its steam, as the country’s appetite for grappling with the everyday inequality that Black Americans face has atrophied as we move further away from George Floyd’s murder.

Revisiting Lovecraft Country’s haunting Tulsa storyline,

Brandon Tensley,
Capital B Politics Reporter

The post Everything’s Political, Including a Promise appeared first on Capital B News.