Mon. Jul 15th, 2024

Inside the intense, person-by-person fight over the Black vote in Wisconsin

By 37ci3 Jun24,2024

MILWAUKEE – There was no better place to be in the midst of the Juneteenth campaign. Black voice a basic swing state.

It was stiflingly hot, in the 90s, amplified by dozens of outdoor smokers and barbecues radiating from the sidewalk. Still, tens of thousands of people of all ages, most of them Black, flocked to MLK Drive for Wednesday’s lively parade, then stayed several hours longer at the nearby rolling festival.

Kimberly Foster is a volunteer for President Joe Biden’s Wisconsin re-election campaign and the longtime Milwaukee resident stood in the blazing sun with a clipboard in hand and announced his main target: people who hadn’t voted in the last election or two.

Kimberly Foster takes a phone call while holding her clipboard
Canvasser Kimberlee Foster at the Juneteenth Festival in Milwaukee on Wednesday.Mehdi Atif for NBC News

“People who vote don’t need us. It’s like God doesn’t need all the saints in the church,” Foster said. “He needs sinners. When you bring sinners, you make them saints. So that’s what we’re going to see. We will see those who did not vote. Talk to them about it.”

And he did. For hours, Foster repeatedly entered the crowd, sweating on his face and on the people he approached, preying on everyone he could. — families, groups of friends, couples, a woman buying an ice cream cone for her impatient daughter, a gray-haired man walking alone, a pair of friends enjoying hot popcorn — to talk to them about voting for Biden. Then, one way or another, he would sign them.

When he encountered “saints”, he would delete their personal information and encourage them to organize themselves.

In one example, a college-age man said he once led a youth voting group and was trying to start a new one. Foster put a hand gently on the back of her elbow and led her to the campaign booth, where a group of five to 10 Biden staffers had been in and out of the day, where they picked her up.

During the parade, a man writes on a board as others watch
Canvasser Kimberlee Foster, left, speaks with Jennifer Bryant at the Juneteenth Festival.Mehdi Atif for NBC News

The efforts of a super-volunteer on this special day Give an example of how the Biden campaign tried to limit the support of the black electorate, in national surveysbegins to show shows some interest in former President Donald Trump. And this city and state shows why it’s so important. And Biden Although he won Wisconsin by less than 1 point in 2020, he actually did worse than Hillary Clinton in many black Milwaukee neighborhoods. In 2016, he lost the state to Trump by less than one point.

Personal conversations like Foster’s on Juneteenth are a big part of the Biden campaign’s efforts to garner more support. The campaign specifically targets Black neighborhoods in Milwaukee an organizational tool called Reach software to map low propensity voters and Zero to Black voters who did not vote in 2022 or 2020.

A few hours later June holidayThe Biden campaign, one of the longest-running such events in the country, said it contacted more than 100 people, from new registrants to those asking for yard signs and help registering to vote. Dozens more were connected who committed to participate in organizing events.

Dancers dressed in orange and pink walk down the street holding pompoms
Dancers perform in the Juneteenth Parade in Milwaukee.Mehdi Atif for NBC News

In conversations with about three black voters here, the biggest threat to Biden was that they would defect to Trump, who has raised many concerns about his policies. Instead, they raised the prospect that they would not appear in the elections, as in 2020. During the interviews, they voiced many complaints about their lives in recent years, such as the high cost of food, gas and rent, and the continued crime.

Several people were outraged by what they described as the Biden administration’s preferential treatment of migrants. they were struggling financially as working US citizens and could not get the help they needed.

Milwaukee resident Ezekiel Johnson, who said he has supported Democrats in the past but is still undecided for November, complained that the Biden administration is spending too much money on outside causes.

“He is worried about what is happening in Ukraine. … Every day it’s another bundle of money for them,” Johnson he said. “We need another package of money.”

For some, the Democratic organizational presence was not enough. Calvin Lee, a lobbyist hosting the nonprofit’s booth, said at a venue like the festival, Biden volunteers should push through the crowd.

Calvin Lee smiles for a portrait outside
Calvin Lee of We Black We Golf poses for a portrait at the Juneteenth Festival.Mehdi Atif for NBC News

“I really don’t see the propaganda of the Democratic Party. I’d like to see 20 to 50 Biden shirts walking around here today, handing out flyers,” Lee said, looking around at the crowd of people passing by. “Where’s the real propaganda?”

Even as Lee spoke, Foster engaged in another tense conversation with a Biden supporter who had signed up to help the organization.

Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson, who walked in the parade earlier and then visited the festival booths, proudly wore a Biden shirt and said it sent a clear message.

“I know there’s a lot of hype and the Trump campaign is trying to say things in hopes that they’ll come true. But when I come and talk to real people in this community, real black people, they say they’re voting for President Joe Biden — and proudly so,” Johnson said.

Trump bragged about pulling black voters away from Biden and in recent rallies more and more he tried to create a spectacle for them.

Johnson predicted that Trump would not be able to capture Biden’s share of black voters.

Cavalier Johnson swings and grabs June's flag
Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson walks in the Juneteenth Parade.Mehdi Atif for NBC News

“He called the most diverse place in the state of Wisconsin — a state that is overwhelmingly African-American — called their home ‘terrible,’ and Joe Biden is making historic investments in our city,” Johnson said.

Inside the data

“Enthusiasm to vote among black voters is the lowest among the demographic groups we looked at,” said Charles Franklin, lead pollster for the Marquette Law School Poll.

Black registered voters make up about 4% to 6% of the electorate in Wisconsin, and Franklin noted that the relatively small cohort makes it difficult to draw meaningful conclusions from voting data.

“I just don’t have enough information to say for sure whether Trump is appealing more to this subset of the Black community,” Franklin said.

But black voters were asked, “How do you feel about these two candidates?” According to Franklin, “Biden is not doing as well as he was four years ago, and Trump is doing a little bit better. I think that’s a legitimate warning sign for Biden.”

A mural that reads: "Our history.  1865. Our culture.  FUBU.  Our community.  Our village.  It is ours to protect.  4 ancestors.  4 blacks.  Thank you for 4 freedom holidays.  The truth is, no one is free until everyone is free.  Black people are still the most incarcerated.  Without community, there is no freedom.  Black living matter all over the world.  Let's get ready for the 4 battles of our lives.  Only love.  love.  Peace.  Soul hair oil.
A mural for True Skool’s Juneteenth Mural Contest in Milwaukee.Mehdi Atif for NBC News

An earlier warning sign for Biden came in 2020 when he won Wisconsin about 20,000 votes. Clinton, who did not visit Wisconsin during the general election campaign before her loss, won the majority-black wards. 1-4 points more in Milwaukee More than Biden did in those areas in 2020, according to data compiled by Franklin.

In 2020, the Democrats were supposed to host the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee, but due to Covid, it was more of a setback. When Biden visited the state, he didn’t accept his nomination there — instead, he did in Delaware.

Biden himself, as well as Vice President Kamala Harris and First Lady Jill Biden, have made frequent visits to Wisconsin this year, and many have expressed appreciation. Maryland Governor Wes Moore plans to visit Milwaukee this week.

Milwaukee resident Diane Wynn, who was waiting in line at the massively popular Pop’s barbecue food truck at the Juneteenth celebration, said she was “open to him” when asked about Trump. He forgave her because of the news about him Calling Milwaukee a “terrible city,” Trump denied this. She thought he meant crime and agreed with that assessment, saying criminals don’t spend enough time behind bars.

A sign reads "WISGOP Black Coalition" with the black elephant logo
Wisconsin GOP Black Coalition at Juneteenth Festival.Mehdi Atif for NBC News

“At first, I was like, ‘hell no,'” Wynn said of his decision to support Trump. “But maybe we need something different.”

Wynn also complained about benefits given to migrants when black communities suffered.

“What are they doing for the middle class?” he said.

Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley said Democrats should continue to avoid sending a message to the Black community. He and other black leaders are confident that if they get Biden’s more policy accomplishments in front of the people, the choice will be clear. This ranges from student loan forgiveness to help with administration Black told small businesses that unemployment numbers are low.

A Biden campaign poster reads: "I'm on the plane because I love to vote.  I want my children not to grow up in a democracy."
Joe Biden-Kamala Harris campaign poster at the Juneteenth Festival.Mehdi Atif for NBC News

“There are going to be people who remember getting that check from Donald Trump, but don’t realize they were able to stay in their homes because of the Joe Biden administration,” Crowley said. “We can’t leave it all up to the Biden administration and the federal government to tell the story. There are people like me, organizations, individuals and businesses that benefit on the ground, and they are our trusted ambassadors.

“We need to do a better job in general and presidential politics to make sure we’re amplifying those voices in our world,” he said.

However, concerns about Trump have deepened. Milwaukee residents have brought up what they see as economic failures in the region during his time in office. Many of those interviewed said he promoted racism and feared what policies a second term might bring to black people.

A man wearing a large sun hat paints a mural on a wooden board
Artist Zakia Wells works on a mural for True Skool’s Juneteenth Mural Contest.Mehdi Atif for NBC News

Although undecided, Milwaukee resident Ezekiel Johnson said he’s not sure he can stomach Trump.

“The last time he lost, he was crazy. He is a sore loser. He lost fair and square,” said Johnson. He also brought up Trump’s failed promise Bringing Foxconn to Racine. “That s— was a bust,” he said.

Navy veteran Darren Reaves said he was on the fence about voting for Trump until recently.

“I have no choice but to vote for Biden. He’s not a criminal,” Reaves said.

Reaves said he likes the way Trump can shake things up in Washington, but he doesn’t like the message Trump is sending. “He promotes racism. It promotes discord. He preaches dislike. He preaches ‘my way or the highway’.

Parade participants are walking on the street, holding placards "Celebrate freedom"
Milwaukee County Transit System employees march in the Juneteenth Parade.Mehdi Atif for NBC News

A tall man with a white beard paused briefly, but did not say his name. His vote will go to Biden, he said. Why? From a young age, he followed a lifelong rule instilled in him by his elders.

When choosing politicians, he always told her to “elect one who will not restore slavery.” He touched a twice took the reporter’s notebook and walked away.

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By 37ci3

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