“There is so much cancer, diabetes and hypertension in Mississippi, and medicine is so expensive,” said Pointer, who left the Delta for the District two years ago to attend Howard University. “People are dying because they don’t have the money.”
She’s for universal health care, affordable housing, free public college and immigration overhaul.
All she needs is a candidate to vote for.
“I hear people say that giving everybody health care and free college and affordable homes will leave the country in debt,” Pointer said. “I tell them that war and mass incarceration has left the country in debt. So, if we’re going to be in debt, at least let it be for the right reasons.”
Among African American voters between the ages of 18 and 34, liberal Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont seems to fit the bill. That group, black millennials and Gen Z’ers, as they are called, favors Sanders 42 percent to 30 percent for moderate former vice president Joe Biden, according to a recent poll by The Washington Post and Ipsos.
That level of support makes black baby boomers cringe. The vast majority of them believe Biden has the best chance of beating President Trump. A vote for anybody other than Biden in the Democratic presidential primary might as well be a vote for Trump,the wise elders believe. Defeating Trump is the priority.
Nevertheless, a poll of black women taken last year by the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation/Black Women’s Roundtable found that 18.9 percent of black women in the 18- to 34-year-old group favored Sanders, compared with just 10 percent who said they’d vote for Biden. (The survey was limited to black women who volunteer to take surveys for Essence magazine.)
Pointer continues working through the political calculus, trying to come up with a candidate to vote for when so many contenders are here today and gone tomorrow.
“I’ve been waiting all my life for the opportunity to vote for someone whose policies I agreed with,” Pointer said. “Now, the first chance I get, it looks like I’ll have to put my progressive ideas on the back burner and just vote to get Trump out.”
Millennials and Gen Z’ers just can’t seem to catch a break. They’re inheriting a mess of a country.
“My generation worried about getting voting rights, and with some notable exceptions we tended to think the country was moving in the right direction,” said Elsie L. Scott, director of the Ronald W. Walters Leadership and Public Policy Center at Howard. “Not so with this new group. Millennials are the first generation not expected to do as well financially as their parents and they are worried not about the country living up to its ideals but about the country becoming a dictatorship.”
But there was reason for guarded optimism.
“The political involvement of African American millennials and the Gen Z’ers tends to be based on lived experience,” said Melanie Campbell, president of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation/Black Women’s Roundtable. “And what they have lived through are years of violence, mass shootings and racial hatred. But they have not become cynical or disillusioned, and I believe they will connect with the power of the ballot and not sit this one out.”
Gen Z’ers like Pointer are the first generation born into world where high-tech gadgetry is as ubiquitous as a body part. Their entire lives have been spent immersed in a social media network that can be as destructive as it is enlightening. They are so inundated with data that they can change their minds at the speed of a tweet.
No candidate could really say they had a lock on those votes.
Pointer had fought her way out of impoverished Mississippi and into Howard. Came to study political science in the department founded by Nobel Prize winner Ralph Bunche. Got an internship with Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn). And she holds fast to dreams of someday becoming a civil rights lawyer.
“When I was in fifth grade, the school superintendent was dismissed for embezzling school money,” Pointer recalled. “I was so upset that I started trying to find out how someone could do something like that. That’s how I got interested in politics. I started speaking up every time I saw wrongdoing. I was so outspoken that some people accused me of being disrespectful. But I never backed down. I was speaking the truth and I usually ended up having the last word.”
She’d left behind her friends in Shelby County, along with many others who had wanted to go to college but could not afford to.
“Everybody who wants to better themselves ought to have the opportunity,” she said.
All she needed was a candidate who believed that, too.
This column has been updated to provide additional information on the participants surveyed by the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation/Black Women’s Roundtable.