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Young Black voters are feeling increasingly ambivalent about the Democratic Party

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Polls are showing equal numbers of voters supporting President Biden and Donald Trump. But one important bloc is feeling disillusioned - young Black voters, and they've leaned Democratic in the past.

WILE ORI MOGUJA: There's been promises being made by the Democratic Party during election season, but then when there's actual time to make changes, our priorities are put seemingly last, like, police reform.

RASCOE: Wile Ori Moguja (ph) is 31 years old. He thinks that Biden has done the best that he can, but still falls short, especially in the international arena.

MOGUJA: I don't think that America is holding Israel responsible enough. And with the Ukraine situation, as well, just the amount of money that's being pumped into that war.

RASCOE: 23-year-old Christina Williams (ph) used to like Trump.

CHRISTINA WILLIAMS: When his presidency was up, I was just like, I miss Trump because, like, inflation wasn't going on. And, you know, it was just life was well during that time.

RASCOE: But now...

WILLIAMS: I just feel like he's not on the Black side no more. And I just feel like if we vote for him, he's going to trick us out our spot. And he going to get us.

TRACI BLACKMON: Being just disenchanted with both candidates, I think speaks to a growing sentiment that is pervasive and somewhat generational, but not completely.

RASCOE: Traci Blackmon is the former associate general minister at the United Church of Christ and is now a consultant.

BLACKMON: There is a growing just malaise with the whole process with people feeling like we vote over and over again, and every election is supposed to be so super important. And then after the election, they are left with promises that are largely unfulfilled.

RASCOE: Are there specific issues on which President Biden is underdelivering for Black voters?

BLACKMON: So here's the nuance of politics, right? Because it's not all on President Biden. We still don't have the positive movement we need in voting rights acts. We still are fighting for the gains that came with affirmative action, and many of those are being rolled back. We're facing challenges with schools. All of these things are contributing to this feeling of, well, why are we doing this, right? Some of the things that President Biden has been able to achieve are overshadowed by what is happening in the Middle East - his absolute stance of continuing to support militarily what is turning out to be a massive genocide. And so that also resonates with many people in the Black community because we recognize the oppression of Black and brown people.

RASCOE: Well, I know, in January, you know, 1,000 Black pastors wrote a letter, urging the Biden administration to pursue a cease-fire in Gaza, and the NAACP is calling for the U.S. to suspend arms shipments to Israel. Do you think that this has really penetrated the minds, especially of Black voters - the issue of Gaza?

BLACKMON: I am one of those pastors who signed that New York Times petition, and it is a sentiment that I hear in other states. But my base is St. Louis. And St. Louis is a place where 10 years ago, Michael Brown Jr. was killed and started the Ferguson uprising. And when the young people went to the street in Ferguson, and encountered military tanks and snipers and police in riot gear - that's not customary for the St. Louis area. It was because the young people were tweeting and streaming what was happening in Ferguson, that young people in Palestine began tweeting and streaming back. They were sharing when police make this gesture, this is what it means. Next, they were going to use tear gas, and this is what you're going to need to protect your eyes and your skin from tear gas. They were able to do that because they recognized those hand signals and gestures from the Israeli military. Then that is when we found out that many of our police forces were going to train with the Israeli military.

So there became a connection between Palestine in particular and those people who were in Ferguson. But even if you have no connection to Ferguson, even if you have no connection to anyone in Palestine, when you see the level of death, I think it is something that is resonating more and more, not just with Black people, but with people in general.

RASCOE: Last week, former President Donald Trump visited a Black church in Detroit. He held roundtable discussions with voters there.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: We got criminal justice reform done. Nobody else could have done that.

RASCOE: Are you hearing from Black voters who plan to vote for Trump?

BLACKMON: I am not. Most of the time when I hear those, I hear them on the radio or I hear them on TV, and it's about his ability to put more money in their pockets, to increase their stop. It is about the things that capitalists care about. In the everyday life of most Black people, especially working-class people, we know collectively that a Trump presidency, again, for us, would increase the challenges that we're already facing.

RASCOE: What do you say to those who say, look, I don't feel like either party is representing me as a Black voter. Where do I turn to, because I don't feel like anybody is delivering on the issues that matter to me?

BLACKMON: When you ask me about the tenor, there is just not excitement about this election. The biggest obstacle we face is getting people to the polls. It is not that they will vote the wrong way, it's that, does my vote matter enough for me to prioritize this? And I suggest that it does. It does, because the alternative is going to be worse for us.

RASCOE: That's Reverend Traci Blackmon, a consultant and former official at the United Church of Christ. Thank you so much for joining us.

BLACKMON: Thank you. Bye bye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.