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Detroit Organizer: Black Voters Expect Strong Policies, Not Just Applause, From Biden

Nov 9, 2020
Originally published on November 9, 2020 6:43 pm

Black voters came through for Joe Biden at pivotal moments on his path to the presidency: in South Carolina during the primaries, and in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania last week.

And as the president-elect thanked his supporters on Saturday night in Delaware, he thanked Black supporters specifically.

"And especially for those moments when this campaign was at its lowest ebb, the African American community stood up again for me," Biden said. "They always have my back, and I'll have yours."

It was "monumental" to hear those words, says Branden Snyder, executive director of Detroit Action, a grassroots organization that focuses on building political power for the city's Black and brown working-class communities.

"We've worked as door knockers, we've worked as volunteers. But we actually haven't explicitly heard of the importance of our contributions," Snyder tells All Things Considered.

When asked what he thinks Biden's pledge to have the Black community's "back" means, Snyder says he hopes it comes down to thanking them "not with just applause, but with policy."

In excerpts from the interview, he discusses what would help Black communities the most.

Are there specific initiatives that you would like to see President Biden enact?

When we think about policies that will both engage African American communities as well as ensure that we can think about the intersectional harms that have happened ... we have to be looking at things like housing, access to good jobs and really thinking about how we solve for environmental racism that we've seen throughout our communities. So I think that those are sort of the top three.

But one I think that is going to be more crucial than all is really thinking about how do we respond to this pandemic and providing [really] just COVID relief ... how do we make sure that we have a policy that actually is just and fair for the relief of a pandemic — like another stimulus, like making sure we extend unemployment benefits, etc.

Thirty percent of people in Detroit are below the poverty line. When the Biden administration says "build back better," what does that actually look like in your city?

For Detroiters, one of the places that we start when we talk about "build back better" is access to more living wage jobs, making sure that we're able to increase the federal minimum wage. It also looks like making sure that there's more access for small businesses to receive capital funding. It's making sure that we take the steps to rectify the harm of the criminal justice system. And, it means taking another step from what the Obama-era policies were — so refunding or funding more of the Second Chance Act, which is the criminal justice initiative.

For the last four years, we have heard President Trump relentlessly refer to "my voters, my people, my states." ... Do you think there's any risk of Biden making a similar mistake?

No, no. One of the things that the Biden campaign is really [emphasizing] is the need to be the president for all communities. And that's actually what we didn't see from the Trump administration. The unfortunate strategy of the Trump administration was to divide and conquer, when the reality is that many of our communities could benefit from the same sort of policies. ... With a Biden administration, one of the things that they've really spoken highly of doing is being a president for all Americans, while at the same time recognizing and listening to the needs of our community. So I don't think that there will be the same sort of favoritism, if you will, and divide-and-conquer politics that the Trump administration has put forth.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

On Saturday night in Delaware, as Joe Biden thanked the supporters who helped him become president-elect, he got specific.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE BIDEN: And especially for those moments when this campaign was at its lowest ebb (ph), the African American community stood up again for me.

(CHEERING)

BIDEN: You've always had my back, and I'll have yours.

SHAPIRO: During the primaries, Black voters in South Carolina helped Joe Biden secure the Democratic nomination. And last week, Black people in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania helped him win the presidency. So what do these voters want and expect from a Biden administration? For one perspective on that question, Branden Snyder joins us. He is executive director for Detroit Action, a grassroots organization that focuses on Black and brown working-class communities in Detroit.

Welcome.

BRANDEN SNYDER: Great. I'm glad to be here.

SHAPIRO: So when the president-elect says, I'll have your back, what does that mean to you in practical terms?

SNYDER: I think for starters, it's a really monumental thing to hear because far too long, African Americans - you know, we've turned out for campaigns. You know, we've worked as door knockers. We've worked as volunteers. But we actually haven't explicitly heard of the importance of our contributions.

SHAPIRO: Right.

SNYDER: And so when I think about, you know, the vice president - or now-president-elect saying that he'll have our back, you know, I'm hoping that this comes down to, you know, really being able to lean in not with just applause, but with policy.

SHAPIRO: Well, let's talk about what those policies might be. Are there specific initiatives that you would like to see President Biden enact in his first day in office, first hundred days in office?

SNYDER: You know, when we think about policies that will both engage African American communities as well as ensure that, you know, we can think about the intersectional harms that have happened, you know, for histories past, you know, we have to be looking at things like housing, you know, access to good jobs or - and really thinking about how we solve for environmental justice or environmental racism, rather, that we've seen throughout our communities. So I think that those are sort of the top three. But one I think that is going to be more crucial than all is really thinking about how do we respond to this pandemic and providing real just COVID relief.

SHAPIRO: I mean, according to the census, 30% of people in Detroit are below the poverty line. So when the Biden administration says build back better, what does that actually look like in your city?

SNYDER: Well, for Detroiters, one of the places that we start when we talk about build back better is, you know, access to more living-wage jobs, you know, making sure that we're able to increase the minimum wage - you know, the federal minimum wage. You know, it also looks like making sure that there's more access for small businesses to receive capital funding. It's making sure that we take the steps to rectify the harm of the criminal justice system. And, you know, it means, you know, taking another step from what the Obama-era policies were - and so refunding or funding more of the Second Chance Act, which was the criminal justice initiative. So I think that there are a number of ways that the Biden administration can build back better and be real specific, making sure that, you know, cities like Detroit fill it and are - you know, and actually are able to fill that - things that he talked about.

SHAPIRO: You know, one of the principles of community organizing is that there are some problems that are best solved at the grassroots level.

SNYDER: (Laughter).

SHAPIRO: And so is it weird for you as a community organizer now to be saying, like, come through, Washington; hello, White House?

SNYDER: You know, the solutions to the problems are with the people closest to the harm - you know, that you lift it up. And so it is interesting. But I think that we as community organizers also have to realize that the battlefield, if you will, isn't just at the local level. It's, you know, making sure that we're able to move policy at the federal and the state level when we can. So we have to be able to see what our openings are and take them.

SHAPIRO: For the last four years, we have heard President Trump relentlessly refer to my voters, my people, my states. He's blamed blue state governors and mayors for things that he didn't like. Do you think there's any risk of Biden making a similar mistake when he says, these groups helped me win office, and so I'm going to prioritize their needs?

SNYDER: No. No. One of the things that the Biden campaign has really emphasized is that - is the need to be the president for all communities. And that's actually what we didn't see, you know, from the Trump administration. You know, the unfortunate strategy of the Trump administration was to divide and conquer when the reality is that many of our communities could benefit from the same sort of policies.

And so I think that with a Biden administration, one of the things that they've, you know, really spoke highly of doing is being a president for all Americans while at the same time, you know, recognizing and listening to the needs of our community. So I - you know, I don't think that there'll be the same sort of favoritism, if you will, and divide-and-conquer politics that the Trump administration has put forth.

SHAPIRO: That's Branden Snyder, executive director for Detroit Action.

Great to talk to you. Thanks a lot.

SNYDER: Thank you. Thank you. This was great. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.