By Kristin Powell
In the months leading up to the 2022 midterm elections, you will hear a lot from pundits about the voters they see as key to swinging the election one way or another — suburban moms, rural voters, and other mostly white demographic groups. But, as in previous elections, few are engaging with the one key voting bloc that has delivered for democracy time and time again: Black people.
Black voters are the main reason we have leaders in the White House and Congress who have firmly rejected the anti-democratic actions of the previous President and his supporters. Black people have also proven ourselves repeatedly to be agents of change for this country, from the civil rights struggles of the 1960s to the Black Lives Matter movement of today.
Yet, while elected leaders, candidates, and campaigns are comfortable talking at Black communities, few make the effort to talk to us. The result is that Black communities are being shut out of helping shape an agenda that truly meets our needs and that of the nation.
In an election year that is pivotal for our collective future, the Black Census Project 2022 aims to change that.
Last month, my organization launched an unprecedented effort to check the pulse of Black people across the country about our experiences, the ways we participate politically, and our top concerns and aspirations.
We aim to talk to 200,000 Black people in all 50 states between now and July. It will be the largest independent survey of Black people ever conducted in the United States, and it includes both an online survey and “offline” engagement opportunities where Black people can come together to talk about the issues.
We hope that Black voters across the country view this as an opportunity to be seen and heard in ways we haven’t been before. The fact is, the major political parties and mainstream pollsters rarely make a determined effort to survey Black people’s opinions. Instead, the overwhelming focus is often on independent (mostly white) “swing” voters and how the parties and their candidates can bring them to their side. But it is Black voters who have turned out for change and have helped pro-democracy candidates who are serious about addressing the nation’s challenges get over the finish line. We deserve to be listened to, and we cannot — and will not — be taken for granted.
If politicians want to get an idea of what is happening with the country at large, they can start by listening to Black communities. What’s good for Black communities is what’s good for the country. The U.S. is at a critical juncture as people across the nation continue to experience economic uncertainty and deep concerns about everything from gas prices and inflation to what’s next with the pandemic.
Black communities are among the hardest hit by these and other challenges. Hearing our voices and understanding our experiences will unlock what’s really happening in the U.S. right now and point to the best solutions for everyone.
Listening to Black people will also be key to advancing an agenda that truly supports all communities to succeed and participate equally in our democracy. Black voters turned out in the 2020 elections, yet we haven’t seen meaningful movement on many of the issues impacting our communities, from the economy to voting rights.
Across the country, Black people are expressing dissatisfaction with how the White House and Congress are showing up for us — and if we don’t start seeing concrete action on our priorities, there’s a real possibility we will skip voting in November and just stay home.
At Black to the Future Action Fund, we have seen firsthand that the only way to increase participation in communities with everything at stake is to increase engagement and outreach. Talking to Black communities early and often is a winning strategy, as long as candidates listen to what we’re saying and respond with real action to address our concerns.
That’s what the Black Census Project is about. We want to learn more about the perceptions, experiences, and political participation of Black people across the country. The goal is to clarify and lift up Black people’s concerns and solutions — because we have to be the messengers when it comes to what we want for our families and communities.
This is a historic and important effort to help build the power and influence of Black communities across the country. We are the only people who are going to make sure we are heard. The success of the Black Census Project is ultimately about our success and making sure that, no matter what barriers are erected to stop our power, we will rise. Join us and participate so your voice can be heard.
Kristin Powell is deputy director of Black Futures Lab and Black to the Future Action Fund.