Marcus Bass is the executive director of Advance Carolina, a Black-Led organization that builds political and economic power in Black communities and institutions in North Carolina. This week when Kamala Harris was campaigning in Raleigh, Marcus asked her a question that gets to the heart of how many in the Black community are feeling about this election. The question was so good, the AP story on Harris’s visit led with it. For years, Marcus has worked day in and day out to “tell the story and win the battle.” Now, he’s deep in the battle for democracy and justice, and to help down ballot candidates win this election.
Q: Tell me what’s going on in North Carolina with voter suppression.
A: In North Carolina we’ve had a decades-long battle with gerrymandering that ended in two Supreme Court cases, one based on political party, one based on race. Now we’re dealing with communities telling people that Democrats vote on November 4th and Republicans on November 3rd. In rural parts of the state aggressive landlords threaten to evict people if a certain person doesn’t win an office. We need to have a witness to vote absentee. It used to be that you needed two witnesses to sign the ballot; now you just need one. But voters have ballots rejected because of “impropriety in witnesses.”
It’s not just the Proud Boys and MAGA hats, it’s Missouri putting out a sample ballot form with the indicator marked for Trump/Pence. Voter suppression is so protected and it is so complex in the current context that it’s easy to miss that it is undermining the entire process of democracy.
Q: National politicians are infamous for swooping into Black communities during election years and asking for support. Is that true now?
A: We have always had to depend on ourselves. Democrats did not want the March on Washington to happen. Afterward, they gloated at its success. For 70 years the Democratic Party has touted that they care about the Black base. The reality is that there’s been an opportunity since 2016. We handed them millions of women protesting about reproductive rights, millions of high school students protesting gun rights, millions of Black and Brown people protesting police brutality. They did not rise to the occasion.
The Democrats are fear mongering now, and the party leaders are not reflective of the base. Personally, I’m done with the lazy logic and lack of respect that Democrats have with respect to Black voters.
Q: Does this mean you won’t vote Democrat?
A: No. What I’m saying is that the two-party system is obsolete. There has to be a hard line of reform of our party system if democracy is to survive. A ‘nod and a wink’ is still very much alive in North Carolina politics, Republican and Democrat.
I’m working directly with Black and Brown residents to build deep education and power. Because when the Republicans or Democrats take control they want you to vote – not to build power. Advance Carolina is working to build power.
Q: What’s the “pragmatic you” doing now, a few weeks out from the election?
A: The reality is there are tons of other issues and candidates on the ballot. Gun rights, healthcare, education, and a ton of offices that are involved in these issues, like State Supreme Court, County Commission and the state legislature. I’m not focusing on the top of the ticket, I’m focusing down ballot, where voters can find justice.
We spent 2 months advocating for early voting sites. At the same time we knew that voters of color did not trust early voting, that many would show up on election day. So we worked on voter safety and protection – we delivered 125,00 PPE kits (disposable gloves, hand sanitizer, mask) directly to voters so they would be protected before they showed up to vote. There’s a website that tells people when and how to register to vote, to vote early, and to vote absentee, with all the dates. People can request a free PPE kit there.
Q: How can people help you if they don’t live in North Carolina?
A: Call a family member you don’t usually talk to and say you need them to understand things are changing. Call a cousin and tell them stand up or stand down. We need people to have real conversations with openly racist people.
Also, we need to prepare for the post-election world where we may have a person who will not vacate the White House. And, if we do get Biden and Harris, the situation may be the same as it is now; Biden hasn’t said anything about police funding or housing. The Democratic party has been ignoring these issues. We have to continue to push and fight.
Q: Where does Advance Carolina get its funding?
A: It used to be mostly from foundations, some with ties to North Carolina’s “agricultural past.” But since all of the Black Lives Matters protests, we’ve been getting a lot of individual donors who want to support our work.
Q: If Trump invited you to the White House would you go?
A: No. There would be no reason for me to go. It would be a photo op for him. No.