If you talk politics in the black community, you’ve probably run across this character:
The “too woke to vote” nonvoter.
They follow elections. They hate racism. They talk all day about “The Man” oppressing their people.
They’re just too hip to vote because they think America is too irredeemably racist for voting to make a difference.
They are gripped by what one writer calls “the highest level of woke-osity.”
After Tuesday’s midterms – when one black candidate for governor narrowly lost in Florida and another trailed in a Georgia race still too close to call – I wondered what those “too woke to vote” were telling their voting friends and families now.
It’s not a trivial question. How those conversations go could affect what happens in the 2020 presidential election.
If Democrats hope to take back the White House in two years, they will have to do better than mobilize people who don’t normally vote in the midterms. Florida – and maybe Georgia – shows that won’t be enough.
They will have to mobilize people who don’t normally vote at all.
And that means waking up the “too woke to vote” crowd.
There was a lot of hope riding on the candidacies of Andrew Gillum and Stacey Abrams. Gillum lost his bid to become the first black governor of Florida, a crucial swing state. And Abrams is trying to become the country’s first black female governor. Though she has yet to concede, her opponent, Republican Brian Kemp, has declared victory.
Both Gillum and Abrams attracted the support of former President Barack Obama and black celebrities. Both had to contend with opponents who employed tactics that seemed, at least to some, straight out of the Jim Crow playbook, including racist rhetoric and the use of a term that once seemed relegated to the history books: complaints of “outside agitators.” There were also allegations of voter suppression.
It wasn’t enough in Florida, and it may not have been enough in Georgia – in part because Republicans did the same, and perhaps even better.
President Trump matched the enthusiasm of progressive voters in those states by mobilizing his white, rural base with promises to protect them from, as Peter Beinhart wrote in The Atlantic, “Latino murderers and women who destroy men’s lives by alleging sexual assault.
“The harsh truth is this: Racism often works,” Beinhart said. “Cross-racial coalitions for economic justice are the exception in American history. Mobilizing white people to protect their racial dominance is the norm. The lesson of 2018 is that American politics is not reverting to ‘normal.’ In many ways, Trumpism is normal.”
Whether Democrats can get those “too woke to vote” to the polls will be crucial to the party’s success.
This issue isn’t abstract to me.
One of my best friends in Atlanta is “too woke to vote.” He studies black history, loves the Black Panthers, talks constantly about racism. But he won’t vote.
Just two weeks ago, we had an impassioned argument about the importance of voting. I told him I didn’t care who he voted for; just vote.
The discussion got so heated that he stepped away from me as I raised my voice. We changed the subject to safer ground: sports and women.
It made me think about what writer and poet Michael Harriot said in a 2017 essay in The Root:
“You can’t have an intelligent conversation with someone with a Ph.D. in wokeology because, when losing an argument, they can always counter actual facts with: ‘Who told you that? The white man?’”
Still, after Tuesday, I wanted to know what my “too woke to vote” friend thought.
What would he make of an election where the President of the United States aired an ad that was so racist that some networks, including Fox News, refused to air it? What would he think about the cartoonishly racist robo-calls directed against black candidates? What would he think about the Republican who successfully ran against Gillum in Florida and warned voters not to “monkey this up” by electing his black opponent?
Most important: Did he have any second thoughts about not casting a ballot for Abrams, despite the narrow outcome of her race?
He cut right to the chase and flashed his Ph.D. in wokeology: He told me he figured Abrams’ opponent would win because, as Georgia’s secretary of state until Thursday, he oversaw the election.
“I don’t regret not voting and I don’t plan on voting going forward,” he told me. “I have absolutely no trust or faith in the US political and justice system.”
Someone I know on Facebook put it more succinctly:
“F— the vote.”
If Democrats hope to win in 2020, they must somehow do what Obama did in 2008: cut through a lifetime of cynicism among those who think the system is rigged and that change is impossible – and get them to the polls.
And they must somehow do it after two charismatic black candidates in the South failed to win two big elections after both seemed like they had so much going for them.