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Race and Campaign 2020

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MINNESOTA -- This fall, we set out to explore the role race could have on the 2020 election.

This comes after a tense summer put an exclamation point on years of struggles with race relations. 

From Breonna Taylor and George Floyd to Jacob Blake, examples of racial unrest boiled over after festering for years dating back to Philando Castile in 2016, Michael Brown in 2014, Trayvon Martin in 2012, and many others.

With a country divided politically, and examples fresh in voters' minds, we're analyzing the impact these recent events could have on the results, given their proximity to a presidential election.

In the Northland, an area that's less than 2% Black, a movement is growing, and activists are seeing more and more involvement from people of all races.  
It's a movement that could play a major factor in the outcome of the election.

We sat down with two black men from the area, who said their goal is to inspire action by changing the narrative of Black men in America and eliminating the hate and anger that is dividing the country.

"We want to promote that we are humans, we believe in human rights, human decency, and being good people," said Marcus Mclin. 

Dayvia Gbor and Marcus Mclin are two of the faces of the group Black Men Serving Excellence (B.M.S.E) on UMD's campus,  who aim to change the narrative surrounding the Black community.

"By collaborating with different organizations, by having conversations with local police officers, with local court systems, by having conversations with student organizations. I think having those conversations and putting people in the same space, I think that type of conversation can break those barriers and divisions."

The non-partisan group recently formed and has 18 members. They've held rallies and protests, and have been engaged in the community, peacefully looking for a change.

"The long-term goal is to impact the community," said McLin, "We want things to be fair and equal. We want to be treated the same way as our counterparts."

McLin says in such a divided political climate, their group's goal is to bring people together.

The type of movement they're talking about is one that has seen major traction in recent months.

The Democratic data firm, TargetSmart showed in the month following George Floyd's death, 300,000 new Republicans registered to vote.

Conversely,  more than half a million Democrats did the same thing, a 50-percent increase from the month before.

"I feel like people are getting to the point where people are like, ' enough is enough.' We are actually living through modern-day slavery in a sense, we are actually living through modern-day lynching, in a sense," said Gbor. 

Registration tripled in Michigan, and more than tripled in Minnesota, with data from Wisconsin being incomplete.

The trend continued throughout much of the summer with hundreds of thousands of new voters registering for both parties. But new Democratic registrations outpacing those of their Republican counterparts in many key areas.

"Before you just had the Black Lives Matter Movement, and at first it was really just mainly black people in it. So, now we are getting more people involved, and I think it's important to keep pushing that," said Gbor. 

2008 and 2012 saw record black voter turnout. In 2016, it dipped. McLin says he believes we could approach record levels in 2020.

"There's a lot of social activism going on with Black Leaders in this country to get people out more and vote," he said. "We all want these black votes to mean something and to matter at the end of the day."

The Kaiser Family Foundation, (KFF) a nonprofit, conducted a study shortly after Floyd's death. They found about six of 10 Black people report experiencing unfair treatment in various settings in the past 12 months.

"Me and one of my roommates, who's also a member of B.M.S.E, we were going on the elevator sometimes, we know people that live on the same floor as us or a floor higher. But they see us get on the elevator, and instantly decide to take the stairs instead," said Gbor, detailing his experiences with being racially profiled. 

It's those types of interactions likely fueling people to hit the polls. 
The same study from KFF shows two-thirds of the public support the recent protests against police violence.
And roughly one in 10 participated in a protest, a number that translates to about 25 million people.
In Kaiser's findings, African Americans represented about 15% of the protesters, Asians and Hispanics slightly less than that, and Whites around three-fifths.

"So, it's kind of like everybody is seeing what's going on, it's hard for people to just sit there," said Gbor. "We got other races saying how they're treating people of color is not right. It's not ethical at all."

The KFF study found of those who support the Black Lives Matter movement, 85% are between the ages of 18-49.

An age group that makes up about half of those who voted in 2016, and an age group that overall, voted Democratic.

What's more, of those who support the BLM movement, 42% identify as Democratic, 6% Republican, and 46% Independent. 

"More people are registering to vote. From Blacks, Whites, Latinos, they're all pushing together to vote. Because everybody sees what's going on, everybody sees the activism, and everybody sees they want change," said McLin. 

Without endorsing candidates, they will look for politicians who will put a focus on education and health care.

"Those two things [are] where the struggle has been for forever. And I think those two things are where you want to see someone stand out, that's where we want to see improvement happen."

Racial inequality and systematic oppression also top the list, with conversations to de-fund the police also being a hot topic.

With the nationwide division, both Gbor and McLin say unity, and finding common ground will be key to moving forward.

In the next part of our Race and Campaign 2020 coverage, we talked to those involved in the minority business community about what impact politicians can have on their industry and what resources they still need.

We sat down with ChaQuana McEntyre, who owns two Duluth businesses.

Her efforts recently won her the Minority Small Business Champ of the Year Award from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

She says, as it relates to businesses, there is a lot of support politicians can provide to diversify communities and help startups accomplish their goals of being minority business owners.
McEntyre has been in business for about 6 years, supporting young entrepreneurs, helping them get a leg up in the business community.

McEntyre says creating a diverse and flourishing business community in Duluth is vital to having a vibrant and successful city.

"Representation is very important. If we don't have businesses where there are people of color who own them, that are storefronts that young adults can see, then they don't even know it's possible."
McEntyre said getting off the ground hasn't been easy, and believes she's been given ample opportunity to succeed.

She added that doesn't mean Black communities don't face barriers when it comes to launching a start-up, including language, access to resources, and overcoming self-doubt.

"I've spoken with a business owner who rented space over the phone with someone, signed the contract via email, and then when they went to get the key, was told they couldn't rent the space to them. And there was no reasoning, it was just 'oh this space isn't available anymore'.[…] Having to not deal with that is what people want to change in our community,” she said.
As far as how a tense summer across the nation could impact the business community, and how Black entrepreneurs vote in 2020, McEntyre says a summer of racial unrest has underscored years of hardships.

"The truth is that these issues, these concerns, and these barriers have always been there,” she said.

She said that's led to a change in how black business owners and community members mobilize.

"We, as people of color, have chosen to be more strategized in how we are doing, how we are voting, how we are working, and how we are putting the stress of our community on ourselves and no longer looking for a handout.

McEntyre said that starts with support at all political levels.

Additionally, while who serves in the White House is important, McEntyre says it's who is in the smaller political roles that make a difference for her.

That puts a lot of the political focus, not only on Congress but local elections as well.

"Duluth is different from Minneapolis, and yet we're treated, we're often ignored when it comes to major money like Minneapolis and St. Paul get, even though we're the largest city north of Minneapolis and St. Paul,” she said.

McEntyre says there are a variety of voices within the business community, and specific needs for all. While she can't speak for everyone, McEntyre believes taking action, no matter how small, is essential.

She stresses the fact that even though she focuses on supporting Minority-owned businesses, she helps anyone who needs a start in the business world.

She adds, if Joe Biden wins the election, that could prove to be a setback for Black business owners. McEntyre feels the focus on the black business community will be put on the back burner during the transfer of power.

In our final part of Race and Campaign 2020, we learn from those who have made it their life's work to understand how race and politics intersect.

We made the trip down to St. Paul and paid a visit to MaCalester College, one of the premier institutes of higher learning in the state, to sit down with professor Duchess Harris.

She has a Ph.D. in American Studies, a law degree, political accolades from several governors in Minnesota's history and specializes in 20th-century African-American political history and civil rights.

"My Expertise is at the intersection of history and political science. I focus on the long Civil Rights movement, which is essentially World War II to present,” said Harris.

The author of 40 books written on political thought said there's a lot to process when it comes to the 2020 Presidential Election.

After a tumultuous nine months across the country as it relates to race relations, Harris said this election could be more charged than those in recent years.

"I think that people are more motivated to vote than they have been,” said. So, we can talk about these last nine months but in the Twin Cities alone, this has been going on for 5 years consistently with Jamar Clark in 2015 and then Philando Castile in 2016, and it just goes on and on and on."

While there are plenty of examples of what Harris is talking about, the recency of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Jacob Blake, coupled with their proximity to an election year, could increase voter turnout in 2020, according to Harris.

"I think it will drive more people to the polls. People have been asking quite a bit, 'what makes George Floyd different than Philando Castile?', and I think it's a couple of things. I think people felt a little more secure in the nation during the presidency of Philando Castile, the people that felt impacted by it. Also, we didn't have the pandemic going on."

Harris adds, she believes it could have an impact on Black voter turnout.

“I think that Black voter turnout is going to be on the rise now. What you found is that younger blacks did not vote in 2016 the way younger generations had previously. There was the notion that neither candidate spoke to their issues, so they were just going to stay at home. There's a huge push now for voter turnout out now for people to think about the impact of not participating."

Harris adds, the average Black voter should keep an eye on both the local and national politics, but the presidential race is taking center stage.

The issues, however, go far beyond just the pandemic. Harris said there are a number of hot button issues that will inspire Black voters to fill out a ballot.

That includes employment, policing, housing, and education.

Harris adds that's where local elections could play a big role.

"The local actually really matters because in a place like Minnesota, you have 75% of African-Americans not being homeowners, which is a much higher percentage than some other places in the nation. Also, I think we come in second from the bottom in terms of educational disparities."

Harris said given the polarizing state of politics right now, more Black voters could be driven to the polls to vote for a presidential candidate, which could inspire more activism and involvement in the local races as well.

The question now becomes, 'what impact could black voter turnout have on the election?'”

Census data from 2010 shows the population of Black people in the larger Northland counties to be less than 2%.

"If you have 100% of African-Americans participating in voter turnout in an area that's 2% Black, I don't know that that's a big difference,” said Harris.

The Roper Center for Public Opinion compiled national voting data from the last 5 presidential elections going back to 2000.

In that time 91% of the Black vote has gone to the Democratic candidate and 8% has gone to the Republican candidate.

That includes record numbers of Blacks voting for Barrack Obama in 2008 and in 2012.

Harris says diversity is important in politics, but it shouldn't be diversity for the sake of diversity.

"One of the things I teach in my class is that it's not symbolic diversity. It has to be diversity of thought,” said Harris.

One of the things Harris mentioned as a barrier for the Black vote is voter suppression and oftentimes, due to a lack of resources, there are areas where it is very difficult to vote.

She said data from after the election will oftentimes show areas with little to no ballots cast.

She says research shows a lot of those areas have a large population of Black voters.

Harris says despite the fact that there is an immeasurable amount of time and effort put into analyzing the polls, predicting the outcome of an election is very difficult to do.

"What will happen on November 3rd, or even now since we're able to vote early, I think only the polls will tell us that. I think it's very difficult to predict,” she said.

Reporter Anthony Matt

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