Civil rights leader Ben Jealous is on a mission to ensure Black men get out to vote in midterm elections

·4 min read

“If they care about the economy, if they care about health care, if they care about education … all of that is on the ballot this fall and they better show up,” said Jealous, president of the People For the American Way.

The People For the American Way, a progressive advocacy organization, found in 2020 that Black men are less likely to cast a ballot in the elections when compared to Black women or their white counterparts because of disinformation and voter suppression.

Ben Jealous, president of the People For the American Way, said that through the organization’s “Defend the Black Vote” campaign, he has been encouraging Black men to cast a ballot in the 2022 midterm elections. The former national president of the NAACP launched “Defend the Black Vote” in 2020 “to mobilize Black voters, combat voter suppression and misinformation” across the nation.

Ben Jealous, President & CEO of People for the American Way. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Stand Up America)
Ben Jealous, President & CEO of People for the American Way. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Stand Up America)

“In 2016, we saw Donald Trump’s campaign and his allies target a little over three million Black men who were unlikely voters intentionally to discourage them from becoming voters or from voting again,” Jealous told theGrio.

“[In 2020, Republicans] put out disinformation campaigns designed to demobilize Black men and keep those who had been on the bench [and further] discourage them from moving into the ballot box.”

Jealous noted that in the 2018 midterm elections, gubernatorial candidates Stacey Abrams (Georgia) and Andrew Gillum (Florida) lost “by a margin so small that if the gap between Black men and Black women’s voting percentages were cut in half they both would have won.”

During the 2020 presidential election, a record number of voters cast their ballots to elect Joe Biden to office, which led former President Donald Trump and other Republicans to make false claims of voter fraud, known as the “Big Lie.” Despite the election being the most secure in history, Republican leaders in Georgia, Arizona, Texas, and more than a dozen other states, passed laws to make it more difficult for Democratic voters to cast their ballots in future elections.

Jealous told theGrio that “the only cure for voter suppression is strong federal voting rights laws. We have been right at the forefront of the push. I personally went to jail five times last fall in front of the White House calling on Biden to get more involved in that fight.”

President Joe Biden speaks from the Blue Room Balcony of the White House Monday, Aug. 1, 2022, in Washington, as he announces that a U.S. airstrike killed al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri in Afghanistan. (Jim Watson/Pool via AP)
President Joe Biden speaks from the Blue Room Balcony of the White House Monday, Aug. 1, 2022, in Washington, as he announces that a U.S. airstrike killed al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri in Afghanistan. (Jim Watson/Pool via AP)

While he waits for federal intervention, Jealous said his team is focused on “massive voter turnout.”

Jealous said in recent months the People For the American Way have reached out to Black male voters through text messages and phone calls “to get an understanding of what’s really important to them.”

“If they care about the economy, if they care about health care, if they care about education, or if they simply want to get rid of a sheriff who’s abusive, all of that is on the ballot this fall, and they better show up,” Jealous said.

Jealous said that organizers at People For the American Way also spend time speaking with young Black male voters “to help them understand how voting not just at the top of the ballot, but all the way down the ballot, can help change that.”

Co-founder Black Voters Matter LaTosha Brown
Co-founder Black Voters Matter LaTosha Brown speaks as other voting rights activists listen during a “Rally for D.C. Statehood,” the last stop of BVM’s “Freedom Ride for Voting Rights” bus tour, at the National Mall June 26, 2021 in Washington, DC.(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Jealous told theGrio that this fall, he is “seeking to replicate” the progress People For the American Way made in 2020.

“We reached out to more than three million Black men and 27 states. What they all had in common was that they were registered to vote. They had not voted in the past three cycles. They did not vote in 2014, 2016, 2018. Most of these men were so-called lost Obama voters…we got two million of them to vote in 2020,” he said.

He also encourages Black men who are “upset” with government policies to “run for office, seize the reins of power and change it” from within.

“The next best thing you can do is just support one of your peers who’s willing to do that,” Jealous said.

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