Above Photo: Shakedra Jenerette, Alester Linton-Pryor and Brandon Counts
By V. Susan Hutchinson
Editor’s Note: On February 5, a small group of African American community activists and leaders came together at the Horry County Democratic Party Office (HCDP) in Conway. The reason? To have a candid discussion on issues affecting African Americans not only in Horry County, but across the country.
The discussion was moderated by Dameion Fowler, a local activist who has contributed several articles to the HCDP website on the challenges faced by African American children in the Horry County school system. Fowler chose several thought-provoking topics designed to ignite a vibrant discussion.
Shakedra Jenerette, founder of I Am Enough and several active HCDP members, including HCDP 2nd Vice Chair Alester Linton-Pryor, Verlene DeWitt and HCDP Young Democrats Vice Chair Brandon Counts, joined Pastor Thomas Dixon, 2016 U.S. Senate Candidate from Charleston. For more information on the participants click here.
This is the first in a series of four articles about the Forum. A video representing the complete discussion is available here. This article is taken from the comments in the video from the beginning to 36:30.
The Impact of Donald Trump
Dameion Fowler opened the discussion by quoting 2016 Presidential Candidate Donald Trump who posed this question to African Americans: “What the hell do you have to lose?” Fowler asked the panel “What have we lost and what can we lose by having our current President serving another 4 years?”
Verlene DeWitt, a former teacher, started by saying access to quality education has been lost by the appointment of Betsy Devos, Trump’s Secretary of Education, who wants to privatize education and, as a result, African American children will end up in even more under-performing schools. In addition, if students do bully others, as Trump does routinely, they are disciplined or expelled, especially black students. This contributes to the school to prison pipeline.
Brandon Counts followed by saying Trump’s claims of low African American unemployment is misleading. Counts says “…in Horry County there are no decent jobs for African Americans or African American males. You might be unemployed or underemployed, meaning you are not being paid what you are worth.” As a party we need to start pushing back on data taken out of context to eliminate the buy in of Trump’s talking points on unemployment, he said.
DeWitt stressed that African Americans, like everyone else, will lose healthcare coverage if Trump succeeds in repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA). With no healthcare options, people will not have access to a primary care doctor and will use the emergency room for treatment when they get really sick, potentially decreasing their chances of recovery.
Shakedra Jenerette stated that housing will be an issue and that Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Ben Carson has no idea what he is doing. Jenerette said gentrification also is seen here in Horry County where, as an example, communities around Longs are being developed that “…do not necessarily represent Longs or pour into the core area of the community.”
Georgetown is another example where high-end housing is seen on one side of the railroad tracks while run down homes and condemned buildings are on the other side, she said, adding that under Trump policies less housing will be available and it will be difficult to find spaces “where we fit”.
She said friends in New York tell her African Americans have been kicked out of their communities by gentrification and when they go back to work for the people who now live there, they are immediately under police suspicion because they are seen as not belonging there.
Alester Linton-Pryor expressed concerns on suppression of African American votes. “It not only affects our country; it affects the communities that we live in,” she said, adding, “We must elect people who can take care of our vote so we don’t lose a right that people have fought and died for in the past. Trump has suppressed the vote in many communities across America. We must reach young people and seniors to get them “off the couch”.
“Unless we vote, we lose everything,” Pryor declared.
Pastor Dixon, who “stands with the blue” says “our leadership is silent on the issues of Donald Trump” and they should be more vocal and aggressive as well as being community leaders to address Trumps lies.
Dixon pointed out that key accomplishments were made under Barack Obama and some have been rolled back by Trump, who then takes credit for things like the Obama trend toward low unemployment, and then uses “fudged” numbers based on how many people are working and not how many have a quality living wage on their job. The result is people working multiple jobs, which contributes to the low unemployment rate. Dixon said the Republican party continues to push Trump’s narrative without question to perpetuate the lies.
Dixon also was critical of Democratic leadership, who he said needs to stop being silent as “silence is consent” and that they “need to address a bully”. At all level, he said, Democratic leaders need to be more vocal on wages, education, education, gun violence, healthcare, climate and anything else that benefits the people.
Is Trump an Anomaly or a Symptom?
Fowler asked “Should we look upon Trump as an anomaly in an otherwise just system or do we see Trump as a symptom of where politics in America is going? What caused Trump?”
Pryor’s view was that it was the election of Barack Obama that set the stage for Trump. It was at that time that some who had called themselves liberals found they actually had “sheets in their closets” and it put fear into a lot of people that their “entitlement” as white Americans was now threatened. “Fear caused Donald Trump’s election” said Pryor, “Fear that their democracy was going to be taken away.”
Counts, however, said Trump’s election resulted because of the inability of Democrats to come together during the 2016 Presidential primaries when Hillary Clinton was competing for the nomination with Sen. Bernie Sanders.
“There was a big breakdown in communication as a party. No one actually stood up and united the party to get that particular candidate elected,” said Counts.
Counts worried that there is a lot less enthusiasm for all of the 2020 Democratic candidates among young voters, just as there was little enthusiasm for Clinton in 2016. Clinton did not meet the Obamas support levels and the last-minute announcement from James Comey of the FBI investigation into her emails further decreased her momentum, he noted
Counts said Trump took advantage of a “weak” candidate, as well as Comey’s announcement, and used it to energize his right-wing base. The thought from conservatives, Counts surmised, was “What do I have to lose by giving Donald Trump a chance?” And now we are stuck with him.
Fowler followed up by asking “Could we have expected the disaffected workers who were victimized by NAFTA to really throw their support behind the person who happened to be the spouse of the president who put that into action?” People in this area were firm Sanders supporters and would not support a Clinton presidency.
Counts responded by saying if a stronger candidate had run in 2016, would they have beaten Trump?
Pastor Dixon expressed the view that the issue goes back earlier than the 2016 election. Dixon said hatred already was present at Obama’s first inauguration. Dixon was on the National Mall in Washington and witnessed the “vitriol and hatred” that was present in 2008.
The roots of racism run deep in America because so many white Americans have an “unconscious bias” and they “don’t understand their own privilege”, he contended. The election of a Barack Obama, a black man of power, brought out underlying racism. The divide between Clinton and Sanders was “another nail in the coffin of America,” said Dixon.
DeWitt expressed the concern that Trump’s “stamp of approval” for racists and their actions, including giving the Medal of Freedom to Rush Limbaugh, only makes racists feel empowered and emboldens others as well.
Is It Enough to Remove Trump?
Fowler’s next question was “Is it enough just to replace Trump and with some politician who happens to be a Democrat? What needs to happen as a result of Trump?”
America needs more than just a presidential change, said DeWitt, explaining, “We need changes from our Senators, House members, people on the local school board who are going to be advocating for change for our youth.” DeWitt said electing candidates who will work to implement changes at the local level are sorely needed. Politicians who can prove they can make changes locally can use the confidence they generate in the people to get elected to higher offices.
Counts iterated that even if, “God forbid”, Trump wins re-election, a Democratically controlled House and Senate is important because Congress is where laws are made and they are the people nominating judges at all levels. Counts said we should focus on S.C. Statehouse as well, to not just to elect Democrats, but to elect representatives who better reflect the racial makeup of our various counties.
Jenerette added that community support is very important and authenticity of our politicians is critical. Politicians should speak “truth to power” when running their campaign so people know they are serious about making changes for everyone, she said.
To Be Continued…
The discussion continues in the articles:
Horry County African American Issues Forum: Voting the Black Agenda
Horry County African American Issues Forum: Education and the Racial Wealth Gap
Horry County African American Issues Forum: Reparations and Black Class Differences