Minority voters must focus on what, not who

In South Carolina, African-Americans will constitute a majority of Democratic voters in the primary on February 27. On March 1, Super Tuesday, people of color – blacks, Latinos, Asian-Americans – will constitute large portions of the voters. The press is focused on whom we want. But we would be far better off to be focused on what we want.

Democratic candidates – not just Sanders and Clinton, but contenders in Senate and gubernatorial races as well – have to listen and respond. They can no longer simply expect to inherit our votes or to ignore our concerns. Their prospects in both the primaries and the general election depend, in significant part, on giving us a reason to vote and to vote in large numbers.

We’ve already seen the impact of this new reality. Black Lives Matter demonstrations across the country have raised the demand for criminal justice reform – and Sanders and Clinton have responded. The Dreamers and the Latino uprising raised the commitment to comprehensive immigration reform.

So what do we want? We know the goal: a level playing field, equal opportunity and a fair start. Carolina lost the Super Bowl. Clemson lost in the college football championship game. But they accepted the result because of five fundamentals: the playing field was level; the rules were public; the goals were clear; the officials were fair; the score was transparent. If the game had started with one team 21 points down, the protests would have stopped the game. Instead, both teams had a fair start and an equal opportunity to win. That is what we want in our society as well as our sports.

But that is not what we have. We have entrenched and often concentrated poverty. Schools that are unequal. Criminal justice systems that are biased. Our neighborhoods are red-lined by banks. We get charged more when we finance purchase of a car. Fraudulent mortgage brokers have targeted blacks and Latinos for loans that they knew they could not repay. There are active efforts to suppress our right to vote. The field is not level, the start is not fair, the rules are skewed, and the officials are too often biased.

So we need targeted action to overcome targeted inequity. Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina has called for a 10-20-30 plan: arguing that 10 percent of all social spending be targeted on the 474 counties where 20 percent or more of the population has lived in poverty for the last 30 years. These counties are white, black and Latino. They are represented by Republicans and by Democrats. They need targeted investment.

That’s a good step, but not enough. We need a development bank to provide credit to communities that are written off by the big banks.

We need a fair start for every child: adequate nutrition, health care, affordable quality day care, and universal access to pre-K.

We need funding to insure our schools can provide the basics: safe buildings, modern learning materials, small classes in early grades, skilled teachers, after-school programs and more. We need advanced training and college to be tuition free, so all who qualify can pursue their dreams. We need a jobs corps, with the government serving as the employer of last resort for young people who cannot find a job.

We need a counteroffensive against the systematic efforts to make it harder for us to vote. Revival of the Voting Rights Act. A national constitutional right to vote. Universal same-day registration. A national floor on voting rights rules. Action to curb the role of big money and particularly dark money in our politics.

We need an agenda to empower workers. Lift the floor with a $15.00 minimum wage and a union. Guarantee paid family leave, paid sick days, paid vacation days. This isn’t a radical idea: the U.S. is the only advanced country without these guarantees.

We need universal, affordable health care. In South Carolina, the governor has turned away billions in federal funds by refusing to expand Medicaid. In the resulting crisis, even Bamberg County Memorial Hospital, where she was born, has been forced to close.

Yes, we need police reform and sentencing reform. We need to give those who have served their time their full citizenship back, including the right to vote. And we need to challenge the private prison-industrial complex, in which prisoners serve as a kind of slave labor leased out to private companies as cut rate rates. And this of course is but a beginning.

We’ve learned that a rising tide doesn’t raise all boats. Some boats are buoyant yachts, others small row boats and some are stuck at the bottom. People of color represent a rising force in American politics. Many of our communities – as well as many white communities – are in deep distress. We need assistance targeted to those in need. So before we decide whom we support, let us make certain they have heard what we support.

Rev. Jesse Jackson is the founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition. He was a leader in the civil rights movement alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and was twice a candidate for President of the United States. This article originally appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times. It is reprinted here with the permission of Rainbow PUSH.

Photo: Police reform is important to minority communities that are in deep distress.  |  AP