The Revs. William J. Barber II and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove
Less than 2 miles from the state Capitol building in Raleigh, North Carolina, one of the poorest neighborhoods in the state is home to service workers who prepare food, clean buildings and clean up garbage in this city of oaks. On a recent Thursday afternoon, volunteers from the North Carolina Poor People’s Campaign walked the streets of this community and knocked on doors to talk with folks about voting in the midterm elections.
Black, white and brown, the volunteers were from communities like this one across the state. Their message was simple: If we show up, they told their neighbors, we have the power to change the conversation in American politics.
Sleeping giant in American politics
As Americans are already voting in states across the country, much of the coverage of races has been about candidate quality and polls that suggest whether Democrats or Republicans can turn out more of their base. But the sleeping giant in American politics is not hidden among the base of either party, nor is it hiding among the elusive “swing voter” that political reporters search for in diners every two years.
The greatest potential for change in American politics is when eligible voters who have not participated in the past are motivated to show up and vote their interests. So-called low-propensity voters are a larger voting bloc than either party’s base, with nonvoters still outnumbering loyal party voters on either side.
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In the historic voter turnout of 2020, 81% of voters who make more than $100,000 a year participated. But among those who earn less than $40,000 annually, less than 64% voted.
In a country where nearly half of the families is either poor or low-wealth, inactive poor and low-income voters have the power to change the outcome in every swing state – if they show up.
More reason to vote than ever
And this year they have more reason to vote than ever. Almost two years ago, Congress passed an expanded child tax credit and expansions of health insurance that dramatically impacted poor and low-income communities. In 2021, when these policies were in effect, the number of Americans who were poor or low-income dropped by 20%, and child poverty was nearly cut in half.
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But the obstruction of Republicans and a couple of extreme Democrats in the U.S. Senate prevented these policies from continuing, alongside other anti-poverty measures that were part of the Build Back Better plan that passed the House. With the added impact of inflation, poor and low-income people face an even greater challenge to afford the basic necessities of life.
This does not have to be the case in the richest nation in the history of the world. We have the resources to ensure that everyone in this nation can thrive, and we have seen the White House promote and the House pass dozens of policies that could make it our reality. Policies that lift from the bottom so everyone can rise have died in the Senate because of obstruction that could be overcome if voters in the midterms elect candidates who have promised to bypass the filibuster.
Poor and low-income people have the power to elect representatives who will pass policies that could fundamentally change their reality.
We have read the polls. If the people who usually participate in midterm elections show up as they usually do, America faces two years of divided government. Hyperpartisan division will inevitably deepen, and things will only get worse for poor and low-income people.
But another future is possible – and well within reach. In dozens of House races across the country, if the turnout of poor and low-income voters increased by less than 30%, they would overcome the margin of victory in the last race in their district
What folks were telling their neighbors in Raleigh is true in almost every poor community across this nation: If we show up, we can win – not just for ourselves, but for America.
The Rev. William J. Barber II is president of Repairers of the Breach and co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign. The Rev. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is the author of “Revolution of Values: Reclaiming Public Faith for the Common Good.”
Story Credit: usatoday.com