Election and Census: 2020 Civic Participation

with Melanie Campbell of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation

According to the Pew Research Center, the black voter turnout rate dropped below 60% in 2016.

Melanie Campbell of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation shares how her organization is working to increase civic engagement in black America, from the voting booth to participation in Census 2020.

Posted on:

Feb 03, 2020

Hosted by: Paul Lisnek
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Lisnek: With a new census and a presidential election, 2020 is a pivotal year for civic participation, impacting everything from how you're represented in government to how your tax dollars are spent. Hi, welcome to Comcast Newsmakers. I'm Paul Lisnek. Here with me to discuss the importance of economic and voter empowerment in black America is Melanie Campbell. She's the president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. Melanie, it's good to see you.

Campbell: And thank you for having me.

Lisnek: Let's talk about the census first because it happens only once every 10 years.

Campbell: Yes.

Lisnek: And I don't know if everybody understands the import of having to fill out that form, however it comes to you. Why is it so important that everybody and certainly as well as black Americans fill that out?

Campbell: Two words -- money and power. And so, the census helps to determine where our tax dollars go, how that money comes back to our community to support issues like roads and schools. Businesses use the information to help plan businesses. And so, it has an impact on our money. The other is about representation, being able to use that information to determine [stammering] get into the weeds of a little, how to draw the lines -- something called redistricting. And so, if you want to make sure that you don't lose a congressional member, you want to make sure you get as many people counted so you don't lose a seat or be able to have the right opportunity to elect candidates of choice. And so that's why I always say it's two words -- money and power.

Lisnek: And what other piece of this -- because there is concern among some communities, the immigrant community including the black immigrant community...

Campbell: Yes. Yes, yes.

Lisnek: ...that filling out the census could get them in trouble. They think they're giving informa-- Should people be concerned about that?

Campbell: Well, my organization and a lot of civil rights organizations fought to make sure that there was a thing that this the current administration... This is just factual. I'm not, you know, pointing fingers, just facts. ...and that was to try to put a citizenship question on there. And the count is about knowing how many people are in the country. It is not about immigration and also kinds of political kinds of things. And so, we had to fight that, and that was fought in the courts and a lot of the civil rights legal organizations, and we won that fight. But the fear is still out there in the communities, in the in the immigrant communities, and we want people to know that the other thing is that people can not -- It's illegal to use your information other than for the counts. But people still have a fear, and so we are try-- So that's gonna be a little challenging to make sure people know that you have a right to know that your information is private.

Lisnek: And people listening to you now are learning that it is okay. So you've got a campaign, which is essentially -- it's called Do Two in 2020.

Campbell: Yes.

Lisnek: That was one of the two.

Campbell: Yes.

Lisnek: But there's another part of that, too, and that's about voting.

Campbell: Oh, yes.

Lisnek: There are a lot of people who say, "My vote just doesn't count. I don't matter." And it -- and in many ways, it's two words for that. It's about your resources and it's about the power, right, and being able to own that power. So, 2020 is a big election. We're not just voting for a president. Oh, yes, we are. We're voting for Congress. There are a lot of state races and local. Politics is still very much local. So we're saying to people, "In the in the first half of 2020, you got two things to do. You got to vote for the primaries and you've got to get counted." So we say do two in 2020.

Lisnek: You guys worked with Essence and released a poll that showed issues that are critical to the African-American community, and right at the top, there was racism, hate crimes, it included health care. A lot of things across the spectrum. How is that guiding you in the work you're doing?

Campbell: It guides us in being able to know what issues are important, so not just for messaging, but really for having a policy agenda. So with Essence, also what you had -- some coalition. and also a black women's roundtable, which is that women and girls arm of the organization. So, we actually do things around having a policy agenda to educate -- 'cause we're nonpartisan -- educate the elected officials about the issues that are important to us. And then how to develop messages to get people to connect the dots of why it's important to vote. And so, being able to understand the issues and for the black vote, black women drive. We are the secret sauce. If you want to get the black vote, you've got to talk to black women, not just because we're gonna show up, but the secret sauce is we make sure that our significant -- our husbands, our sons, our daughters our nieces, our nephews -- show up and vote. So, the role of the black woman, if you're trying to get the black vote, you better make sure that you are respecting in the black woman's vote and our leadership.

Lisnek: And you very quickly mentioned roundtables. I just want to say, every year I know you bring powerful black woman together and address these kinds of issues.

Campbell: Exactly. So we have a national policy agenda that we go on Capitol Hill and we educate legislators about what's important and the issues that are important to us, but also we work in several states -- 10 states across the country -- and those issues kind of resonate not just federally, but even on a state and local level. And so, our leaders who lead our affiliates and our networks in the states, really use that agenda as well on a state and local level.

Lisnek: And just want to emphasize, you know, people think their votes don't count. The truth is, as you said it -- state level, school board,

Campbell: Exactly.

Lisnek: Right, your vote does matter and sometimes those elections are decided by a vote.

Campbell: Exactly. And we tell the people, "Own that power. Don't give away." Somebody trying to take it. People are trying to do voter suppression tactics that make it harder to vote. I always tell young people -- younger than me -- younger people, "Hey, they're trying to take your vote for a reason. Otherwise, why bother, right?"

Lisnek: If people want to know about the work you do, where can they learn more about you?

Campbell: They can go to our national ncbcp.org website or our campaign. So we have a lot of campaigns. Unitycampaign.org. And join us. Come volunteer.

Lisnek: You convinced me.

Campbell: Thank you.

Lisnek: I'll fill that census form out -- You got me voting.

Campbell: Alright. Vote. We count it.

Lisnek: You got it! The National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. Thank you for the work you do.

Campbell: Thank you so much.

Lisnek: It's important to this country. And thanks to you, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and around the country, go to comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Paul Lisnek. Thanks for watching.

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