It’s that time again. Black radio is filled with political advertisements featuring African-American voices urging us to vote for Missouri Democrats. Stay clear of Republicans, they warn. Republicans like Josh Hawley, the young Attorney General challenging two-term U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, is a tool of Donald Trump. If he gets to the Senate, he’ll help Trump push his agenda, they warn, an agenda deeply harmful to blacks and poor people. The smart choice, indeed the only choice, for black folks is voting for “our friend”, Claire McCaskill.
All that may be true. Donald Trump is an unapologetic racist. Republicans in Washington have acted as his enablers and accomplices in historic acts of criminality. And Josh Hawley is eager to join them in their continued placement of party over country. All that may indeed be true. In fact, I would argue that it is true. And that is why I’ll be voting for the Democratic candidate. But with that being said, just because Missouri Democrats and Claire McCaskill are better for us than Republicans and Donald Trump, that does not mean they are “our friends”.
The pattern repeats itself every four to six years. When it’s time for Missourians to elect a governor or a senator, the Missouri Democratic Party reminds black voters how horrible the Republican agenda is for us. And they’re often right. But they also ask us to forget that for the years between those elections, it isn’t Republicans who we find ourselves fighting on a daily basis. It’s white Democrats.
When black people took to the streets in 2014 to demand police accountability and equal protection under the law, it was a Democrat, Governor Jay Nixon, who met calls for freedom with displays of force.
During that same period, it was another Democrat, St. Louis City police union spokesman Jeff Roorda, who became the poster child for the fight against police reform and accountability. And despite Roorda’s inflammatory and Trump-like statements and animosity towards our community, he still enjoyed the full support of the Missouri Democratic Party. At the time, he was also a state representative running for a state senate seat in Jefferson County and both Nixon and Claire McCaskill publicly supported him, even attending a fundraiser for him.
Here in St. Louis City, where every elected official is a Democrat, there is an old joke: St. Louis is still a two-party town—white Democrats vs. black Democrats.
For northsiders, it has been white Democrats who we fight in City Hall for basic city services, for fair allocation of funds and resources, for attention to the crime and violence plaguing our streets. It was a Democrat, then-mayor Francis Slay, that sided with developer Paul McKee for years and enabled his destruction of black neighborhoods and lowering of black property values in north St. Louis, even using eminent domain against black homeowners, churches and businesses.
Like clockwork, the Missouri Democratic Party asks their most loyal voting base, black voters, to come out in high numbers to support white Democrats while offering us nothing more than “We’re better than the Republicans.”
That can’t be enough. In this age when Republicans have allowed Trump to drag their brand to new lows, being “better than the Republicans” isn’t saying much at all.
The math is simple. If black voters don’t come out in strong numbers, the Democrats will lose again. And to be clear: it is true that a Trump/Republican agenda is not in the best interest of black people or northsiders. But just because the Republicans are awful doesn’t mean that the Missouri Democratic Party only owes black voters to be slightly less awful. Democrats must give black voters something for their vote and their continued loyalty. And black Democrats must demand more from their party.
Famously (or perhaps infamously), whenever election time comes around and black leaders are finally given an audience with Democratic party leaders such as McCaskill and others, it becomes embarrassingly obvious that there is no long-term black agenda. What are the legislative and economic priorities that will move our community forward, that we are willing to fight for in a disciplined manner for as many years as necessary?
For us, it must start with economic stimulus in north St. Louis. And I don’t mean Paul McKee or the NGA (National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency).
Depopulation and lowering property values on the northside are ongoing problems. They are problems that should be a top priority for City Hall, but they aren’t. It seems to come as a surprise to mayors and aldermen after every Census that the small population growth occurring in the Central West End and some surrounding south side neighborhoods cannot keep up with the large population loss occurring in north St. Louis and some poor, south side wards. As a result, St. Louis City continues to lose population. And people are the lifeblood of a city. Without people, there is no city.
The City of St. Louis needs large economic stimulus in its northern half. The kind that brings jobs, private economic investment, and people. $50 million to provide no-interest loans covering 80% of the cost to the purchase, rehab and convert two-family vacant houses into owner-occupied single-family homes in north St. Louis is a good place to start.
It’s time McCaskill and the Missouri Democratic Party were truly friends to black voters. And delivered something more than simply not being Donald Trump.