“Up in Indianapolis the whole talk has been about whether or not senator Jim Merritt, who is the challenger [in the mayoral race], and mayor Joe Hogsett—if they have a black agenda for our community,” Dana Black told about three dozen people gathered in Bloomington’s city council chambers last Saturday.
Black is deputy chair of the Indiana Democratic Party, and she was delivering the opening remarks for a panel discussion titled “The Power of the Black Vote.”
It was the second annual such discussion, hosted by the Monroe County Black Democratic Caucus and the Monroe County Democratic Party.
About Merrit and Hogsett, Black said, “I’m sorry, I’m not looking for two wealthy white men to come up with a black agenda for my black community.”
If developing an agenda for black people is not the role of people who are not in the black community, what might their supporting role be? Black’s answer: “When you’re in a room and none of us are there, you can be an ally for us. And when you’re hearing things that are inappropriate, you can make a correction for us. Because we’re not in all your spaces.”
Black’s observation about the representation of black people in various rooms across the community was reminiscent of some remarks delivered by Bloomington city councilmember Jim Sims, at an Aug. 27 rally on the Monroe County courthouse lawn. The rally was held under the banner of “No Space for Hate.”
Sims talked about how often he found himself in meeting with maybe 40 other people, and he’d look around and notice that he was the only black person in the room.
Bloomington’s population is only about 3 percent African American, Black said, so she wanted to point out some tools that even a small minority can use to have “a real impact in the policymaking process.” Black’s five tools:
- Run for office. “If you’ve never considered it, consider it. … That’s where people who are in the room with other lawmakers and policymakers and are able to introduce plans that can improve communities.”
- Vote. “You have to make sure you are finding out who these folks are that you are voting for. Be conscious about your voting, but go vote.”
- Consider becoming a lobbyist. “[Y]ou also have amazing lobbyists like Mothers Demand Action, and those types of groups, AARP, amazing lobbyists who actually lobby for people. If you have a voice, you should consider that. Because you’re the one who’s going in and actually talking to elected officials about the issues that matter to their community.”
- Contribute money. “We have the ability as black folks to influence people by our buying power. To take some of that money and give it to an organization or a candidate who is speaking to your issues.”
- Collaborate with street activists. “They’re the ones that are putting a march together, they’re the ones with the bullhorns, they’re the ones who are saying, Hey look at this issue, because we are being ignored. And then what you do is you take that particular person and you put them in front of your council to talk about your issues.”
“You cannot say you came to this discussion and you didn’t go home with something,” Black said, “I gave you five tools on how to improve the lives of the people in your community, because that’s what we’re here for, this is what the discussion is about.”
Panelists for the ensuing discussion were Eddie Melton (gubernatorial candidate and state senator), Jada Bee (Core Council of Bloomington Black Lives Matter), Rafi Hasan (Monroe County Community School Corporation Equity and Inclusion Coordinator), Stephanie Power-Carter (professor of education at Indiana University).
Serving as moderator was Amrita Chakrabarti Myers (professor of history and gender studies at Indiana University).