I wanted to touch briefly on the idea of civic participation, and some thoughts I have on it as it relates to the recent Alabama senate race. I’ve talked a lot about civic engagement and voter participation, specifically as it relates to the Asian-American community, these past few months. While I feel like this has become part of my #brand now, it’s only been within the past year why I’ve discovered why I’m so interested in it.
The APIA (Asian Pacific Islander American) category is pretty wide-ranging — I use it as a term that encompasses Southeast Asians to South Asians, groups that are big and have significant variation within them — but they all have comparatively low levels of voter turnout. It’s frustrating to me when people that I’ve grown up around aren’t political, because I believe voting is such a basic right that people in our democracy that people have fought for, but it’s more than that. As I started to do more Asian-American voter registration, I began to realize that the more elected officials see a community as a voting bloc, the more they start pandering to you for votes. Of course, I’d rather have substantive and thoughtful change over pandering, but I’ll take what I can get.
This brings me to Tuesday’s Alabama Senate election. I was, like the rest of Twitter, anxiously following the results as they trickled in (partially because I was sick and unable to concentrate on anything else, partially because I was desperately hoping that Alabama would reject a racist, homophobic pedophile of a candidate. It was a good early sign for Doug Jones, that the exit polls were showing that 30 percent of the voters who showed up were African-American. Harry Enten of FiveThirtyEight tweeted “All the talk about black voters not turning out…If Jones wins it, it’ll be because black voters turned out.”
After Doug Jones was officially called the winner, the exit poll data that compared the vote on gender and racial lines showed some damning statistics — 63 percent of white women voted for Roy Moore, while 97 percent of black women voted for Jones. What followed was a cascade of tweets — some performative, some sincere — praising black voters, particularly black women, for “saving” Alabama (so much so that #BlackWomen was trending on Twitter). The backlash, quick as it is in the Internet age, generally focused on reminding non-black folks that black women were voting their own interests and to protect their own communities, rather than because of a desire to “save” anyone.
But the most interesting part of all of this to me, is how the Democratic Party will take this new information, that African American voters will turn out with effective voter mobilization and sway elections in the Democrats’ favor, even despite heavy voter suppression. For the past year, it seems like much of the establishment’s focus has been on chasing this notion of the “white working class” voter who voted for Trump, a group whose economic interests seem like they might be better served by shifting support to Democrats. We’ve seen New York Times piece after piece on these Trump supporters, that try to get at the bottom of why they voted for Trump. But so far, trying to pinpoint who these voters are and trying to persuade them to join the Democratic party has seems to have had little success.
My interest in mobilizing Asian American voters is so tied into this ideal of how democracy should work, and was meant to work — on which elected officials take notice of characteristics of their electorate and work to try to address the issues that they care about — so it is frustrating to watch the Democratic party take one of their core bases for granted. Roy Moore was a horrifically bad candidate, who not only has been accused of sexual misconduct by several women, but has also said things like America “was great at the time when families were united — even though we had slavery.” It’s clear that African-American voters were paying attention to that. But Democrats cannot just wait for the Republican candidate to be racist — they have to proactively work to advance issues that matter to the African-American community in order to get the political participation for an important voter base.