As a young black journalist covering the Democratic National Convention this week in Philadelphia, there were a lot of important takeaways, and not all of them simple.
Someone told me beforehand that the DNC would be like going to a revival meeting. I didn’t know what they meant. Now I do. Imagine thousands of people going to see their favorite person in concert but the main act is democracy. Seeing the crowd so rowdy and fragmented was unexpected — and interesting. When Sen. Bernie Sanders said in his speech the first night that democracy is about disagreement, he was spot on.
Take Black Men for Bernie. It’s a group that has been getting recognition for spotlighting black support for Sanders. The group has a really cool bus and several vans making the rounds at protests. Everywhere they go, they become the center of attention as soon as they pull up.
Black Men for Bernie was started by a family from Texas, when the 17-year-old Nadia Crawford pressed her mom about why she was voting for Secretary Hillary Clinton. From there, the family went through a process of soul-searching and research before joining the Sanders movement, a decision that has taken them across the country.
Jeremy Davis, 21, explained to me that like a lot of black families, his has always voted for Democrats, but after doing his research on Clinton, he decided she wasn’t the best choice for him. “We need to make a decision based on the best candidate, not the best party,” he told me.
He’s not alone, according to the GenForward Survey of racially diverse millennials by the Black Youth Project in partnership with the Associated Press and the University of Chicago. Some 60% of the African American young adults surveyed thought Sanders best understood them, versus 35% who thought the same of Clinton.
The question now that Clinton is the Democratic nominee for president is whether they will vote for her in November. And for black people at the DNC, that answer seems to be mixed. In my interviews with black people at the convention, some said Sanders’ speech did the job of unifying and bringing along the skeptics. Watching the room change during that speech, that seems like a plausible argument. It didn’t hurt that the popular First Lady Michelle Obama made a strong pitch, too.
But the night when the “mothers of the movement” took the stage to talk about losing their children at the hands of police, and the hall filled with Black Lives Matter chants, not everyone was on board.
In the hallway before the mothers spoke, I interviewed Cephus “Uncle Bobby” Johnson, the uncle of Oscar Grant who was shot and killed by a BART transit officer in 2009. He told me he doesn’t trust Clinton. Our reporting has found that he is like others in the protest movement, saying traditional candidates aren’t doing the job. That’s why some are considering third-party candidates like the Green Party’s Jill Stein, or maybe not voting at all.
The whole debate surprises me.
As a young black person worried about my future and very aware of what my elders fought for to get the right to vote, I haven’t considered not voting or even third-party options.
But watching how carefully people are weighing their options and researching the issues, it gives me a better understanding of our democracy, and the weight of our voices, through voting and other means.