African-Americans are usually neglected, until October, when candidates make their obligatory visits to Black churches. The past two years, police shootings, disproportionate Black unemployment, and candidate endorsements by hate groups, have kept Black people in the headlines. Mar 18-21, 2016, Arizona, which normally gets little electoral coverage, reflects the battle over the role African-Americans will play in the 2016 Presidential Election.
Surprisingly, this year, Democratic candidates are fighting over their attention. Hillary Clinton touts her long-term support of equal opportunity. On Mar. 18, California Congresswoman Maxine Waters met with representatives from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women and others to encourage them to join African-Americans for Hillary. At Mrs. White’s Restaurant and Greater Bethel AME Church, she said, “This year we have the unique opportunity to elect a thoroughly qualified woman as the first female President of the US.” Actor Sean Patrick Thomas and former President Bill Clinton are also stumping for Clinton; she will appear Monday.
Bernie Sanders, whose Saturday rally was at the Arizona Fairgrounds, has recently diverted from his usual rant about Wall Street to acknowledge specific economic problems of US Blacks, and remind people of his past involvement in the Civil Rights movement.
Donald Trump attracted a large crowd in affluent Fountain Hills, 30 miles east of Phoenix, on Mar 19. The rally was delayed by a human blockade of protesters, who stopped traffic on the main road leading to the town. Trump discussed his usual issues—a wall, making America great again, trade deals, etc. But he also ran an emotional anti-immigration commercial this weekend in Phoenix, featuring an African-American father, whose son was murdered by an undocumented immigrant.
Independent voters cannot vote in the Arizona primary on Mar. 22. But independents made themselves heard this weekend. John Fitzgerald Johnson is a 2016 Independent Presidential Candidate. This African-American veteran, ordained minister, former rap music producer, long-time civil rights advocate and former Black Lives Matter member, was also in Phoenix to promote his “only we can fix us” campaign. “I am challenging the other candidates to have a serious debate about racism in America,” he said. The independent Presidential candidates will have their own debate on May 29.
African-Americans, a powerful voting block, are really the ones left behind in the economic recovery (Arizona Black unemployment is 12% compared to 5.8% of whites). Their support may make the difference in November, and the candidates finally paying attention.