Obama Will Emphasize Class and Race at March on Washington 50th Anniversary

Obama Will Emphasize Class and Race at March on Washington 50th Anniversary

Over the weekend, The Washington Post presented a preview of President Obama’s speech at the upcoming 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which they report will strongly emphasize economic inequality problems, even more so than racial inequality. Obama’s senior adviser Valerie Jarrett told Washington Post reporter Zachary Goldfarb that Obama “wants to  create opportunity and to make sure the level playing field is ready for everybody.”

Some activists who represent the interests of black communities have accused Obama of not addressing race more forcefully in the public eye — and not enough specifically on how to solve the impacts of racism on African Americans specifically. The Obama administration is pushing for reforms in prison sentencing for drug-related crimes, which overwhelmingly impact young black men and women. But news radio host Tavis Smiley, who reports on African-American issues and has been a sharp critic of Obama, wrote for this weekend that those reforms took too long.   

Even in the Obama era, although President Obama initially campaigned on a one-to-one ratio in this area of sentencing, what he signed into law in 2010 was 18-to-1,” wrote Smiley. “Better, but not nearly good enough.”

Activists like Al Sharpton have been more sympathetic to Obama, in what he can and can’t address as President of the United States. In the Washington Post article, Sharpton told Goldfarb, “Those critics of Obama who want him to lead the movement are not studying history. If this becomes an Obama-led movement, we’d be caught in bickering and the whole obstruction and gridlock in Washington.”

The August 28, 1963 march focused on both race and economics. It was coordinated in part by A. Philip Randolph who organized around race and labor discrimination. One of the speakers at that march was Walter Reuther, the president of the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America, which was a chapter of the AFL-CIO labor union.  Whitney Young, executive director of the jobs-focused National Urban League, was also a speaker. 

William Julius Wilson, the Harvard scholar on race and class who wrote the book “The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass, and Public Policy,” said in the Washington Post that he “strongly believes” that Obama is aware of the impact of economic discrimination on race. He told Goldfarb that opportunities for upward mobility in America are “especially acute for low-skilled black males,” many of whom “turn to crime and end up in prison, which further marginalizes them and decreases their employment opportunities.”



Youth Bridge Digital Storytelling and Slam Poetry in Off-Page Project

Youth Bridge Digital Storytelling and Slam Poetry in Off-Page Project

In the ever-expanding landscape of new media and digital storytelling, the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) and Youth Speaks teamed up on a new project that combines spoken word poetry and investigative reporting. Based in the Bay Area, the Off-Page Project launched this month, and aims to be “a multimedia platform for young people to investigate the issues and stories that would otherwise be silenced.”

Through this project, young poets work closely with journalists and staff at CIR to explore issues such as bankruptcy in Stockton, Calif., and sexual assault among migrant farmworkers. The project participants become investigative digital poets, taking an art form most often seen on stage and combining it with cutting-edge news reporting and video documentary. The result is jarring and powerful. 

OPP_082013.jpgIn the inaugural video “Whispers from the Fields,” 19-year-old Monica Mendoza takes on the challenging issue of sexual violence among migrant women farmworkers. Mendoza lyrically imagines the fear and anguish these women experience, putting herself in their shoes as they struggle with the guilt and frustration of remaining silent. An estimated 56,000 women are currently involved in agricultural production in the U.S., and much of the sexual assault they experience goes unreported.

Perhaps best known for the Brave New Voices slam poetry festival, Youth Speaks overwhelmingly serves youth of color, and this project lifts up their often unheard voices. 

I hope the Off/Page Project provides an additional platform from which young people of color across America can work with investigative journalists to tell their own stories and be documentarians for themselves and their community, and really illustrate how storytelling can be a tool for social change,” José Vadi, the project’s director, says by email. “Stories from the border, reservations, unincorporated communities — we want to investigate it all and have young people at the center of a movement driven by sourced storytelling.” 

Will ICE Deport Barack’s Mom?

Will ICE Deport Barack's Mom?

Three years ago, Sandra Elizabeth Borja Armeo gave birth to a baby, and she named him Barack—ostensibly in honor of Barack Obama. Sometime later, she made the decision to visit her dying mother in Mexico. While there, she was trafficked before escaping and filing charges against her persecutors. 

Finally free from some of the trauma she survived, Borja Armeo decided to come back to reunite with her US-born son, Barack, but was halted by Border Patrol and placed at an immigration detention center in Texas. The irony of the case, of course, lies in the fact that President Obama’s administration has deported more immigrants than any other.

Her partner, Juan Jose Mangandi, is a well-known day laborer, activist, and theater director. He was also a rider on Undocubus last summer. Now, #Not1More is organizing to urge immigration officials to release Borja Armeo.

If that sounds unlikely, just remember that it wouldn’t be the first time an undocumented immigrant left the US, only to come back, be placed in detention, and then reunited with their families and communities at home. 


More Cheesesteak, Less Hate

More Cheesesteak, Less Hate

A Phili cheesesteak restaurant did the right thing and changed its name recently, from “Chink’s Steaks” to “Joe’s Steaks + Soda Shop.” Never ones to let a good deed go unpunished, racists have steadily attacked the establishment—bombarding Joe’s Facebook page, organizing a boycott, and going as far as to vandalize the restaurant itself.

That’s why 18 Million Rising is organizing a massive eat-in at Joe’s this Saturday. They’re asking members and friends to celebrate owner Joe Groh’s decision to change his restaurant’s name by patronizing the joint. The action starts Saturday at 1pm local time, when guests will be lining up outside of Joe’s, hungry for cheesesteaks, sodas, and justice! 

Advocates Praise FCC’s Decision to Lower Prison Phone Rates

Advocates Praise FCC's Decision to Lower Prison Phone Rates

Malkia Cyril, executive director of the Center for Media Justice and a lead activist who helped pressure the FCC to lower the cost of interstate prison phone calls, published an op-ed on The Hill this week praising the commission’s actions:

Thanks to the new rules, these kickbacks will no longer be considered the “cost of doing business,” and “fair compensation” laws that previously only applied to phone companies will require that carriers consider consumer affordability. As a result, prices will now range from 10 to 30 cents a minute. 

This vote doesn’t just ease the financial burden on families of incarcerated loved ones. Research demonstrates that keeping families connected reduces the return rate to prison, is fiscally responsible, strengthens families and keeps communities safer. Our country’s incarcerated population is serving their time, but they have legal right to affordably communicate with their loved ones.

The Commission voted last week to lower the cost of interstate prison phone rates thanks in large part to a decades-long campaign to bring attention to the issue by inmates, their families, and their allies.

Spike Lee Surpasses Million Dollar Kickstarter Goal

Spike Lee Surpasses Million Dollar Kickstarter Goal

Looks like the new Spike Lee joint is happening after all thanks to Kickstarter. On Thursday, the acclaimed director surpassed his $1.2 million fundraising goal and as of noon on Friday, more than 5,300 backers have donated more than $1.3 million.

Lee has vigoriously defended his right to fundraise the money through Kickstater, even though some critics claim that a director of his stature could raise enough money through traditional Hollywood channels of financing. 

So far, Lee’s upcoming film is only known as “The Newest Hottest Spike Lee Joint.”

For more, visit Lee’s Kickstarter page.

Artur Davis Wants Voting Rights Restored for Former Felony Offenders

Artur Davis Wants Voting Rights Restored for Former Felony Offenders

Artur Davis, the black former congressman whose political career tumbled after a disastrous, center-right campaign for Alabama governor, is advocating for voting rights restoration for former felony offenders. Davis disappeared from the limelight after he was trounced in the 2010 gubernatorial Alabama Democratic primary race, only to emerge later as a cheerleader for voter ID laws, which many elections experts say are an infringement of voting rights. 

But in an interview with Dave Weigel at Slate, Davis not only offered support for rights restoration for ex-felons, but he also had some choice words for his pro-voter ID colleagues.

On former felon voting rights, Davis told Weigel:

“Republicans should be aligned with the movement to restore voting rights to nonviolent released felons as long as they are complying with conditions of supervised release. …No conservative ought to have a principled objection to an ex-felon being able to earn his way back into being a full-fledged citizen.”

On voter ID, Davis said:

“The voter ID movement has been damaged by extremists who argue that Obama somehow stole both elections, or clowns like the Pennsylvania legislator who bragged with no evidence to support the notion that a voter ID law would kill Democrats in Pennsylvania.”

On the ex-felon voting rights restoration front, state Sen. Elbert Guillory, the black Louisiana state legislator who was over-pleased with the Supreme Court’s Voting Rights Act gutting, also pledged support, according to Weigel.

It’s not surprising that Davis supports rights restoration. He currently resides in Virginia, where Republican Party leaders have been trending in this direction, particularly Gov. Bob McDonnell, who has pledged to restore the rights of all former non-violent felony offenders on a case-by-case basis. Davis is expected to run for Congress from Virginia, so he could be simply toeing the party line there. 

As for his criticism of those “extremists who argue that Obama somehow stole both elections,” it should be noted that Davis has spent plenty of time in the company of those extremists. Last year, he served as speaker and panelist for events orchestrated by anti-voting rights extremists True the Vote and Judicial Watch, both of which believe Obama won due to voter fraud. Judicial Watch head Tom Fritton claims that Obama won with the help of fraudulent votes from a “food stamp army” and “illegal aliens” — comments made in Davis’ presence without his objection. 

Donald Glover Releases Experimental Film Project

Donald Glover Releases Experimental Film Project

Donald Glover’s got a new project out, and it’s neither an album nor a TV show. Instead, it’s a film project called “Look Around” that plays on continuous live loop and features appearances from Flying Lotus, Trinidad James, and Chance the Rapper. Glover hasn’t said much in the way of introducing the project, except “the new site isn’t meant for mobile devices. i want you to be home to explore it.”

(h/t childish gambino via Shadow and Act)

Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’ Crew Sues Marvin Gaye’s Family

Robin Thicke's 'Blurred Lines' Crew Sues Marvin Gaye's Family

Robin Thicke, along with producer Pharrell Williams and rapper T.I., have filed suit against deceased singer’s Marvin Gaye’s family in an effort to protect their summer hit song, “Blurred Lines,” which many have said bares too close of a resemblance to Gaye’s 1977 hit “Got to Give It Up.”

In filing the suit, the trio said that while they have “the utmost respect for and admiration of Marvin Gaye, Funkadelic and their musical legacies,” they must “reluctantly file this action in the face of multiple adverse claims from alleged successors in interest to those artists.”

The Hollywood Reporter broke the news late Thursday night, and here’s some of the blow-by-blow of the copyright battle:

The suit claims the Gaye family is alleging that “Blurred Lines” and Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” “feel” or “sound” the same, and that the “Gaye defendants are claiming ownership of an entire genre, as opposed to a specific work.”

As for Funkadelic, there’s said to be claimed similarity between Thicke’s hit and Funakedlic’s “Sexy Ways.”

“But there are no similarities between plaintiffs’ composition and those the claimants allege they own, other than commonplace musical elements,” states the lawsuit. “Plaintiffs created a hit and did it without copying anyone else’s composition.

“Blurred Lines” is currently in its tenth week atop the Billboard Hot 100. For comparison’s sake, listen to both songs:


Correctional Officers Don’t Like Mandatory Minimums, Either

Correctional Officers Don't Like Mandatory Minimums, Either

Remember when Attorney General Eric Holder said that we can’t just “incarcerate out way to becoming a safer nation”? Well, he’s got some interesting backup. 

Before Holder made his formal announcement, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) board approved mock legislation that allows judges discretion for otherwise mandatory minimum sentences. Now, correctional officers want minimum sentencing reform, too. 

The American Correctional Association—which, according to its website, “is the oldest and largest international correctional association in the world”—passed a motion supporting mandatory minimum sentencing reform. The resolution reads, in part:

“[T]he use of statutory “safety valves” helps to reduce both prison and jail crowding and corrections costs, in turn making prisons safer and more rehabilitative, preserving limited resources for the most violent and dangerous offenders, and ensuring continued funding of other important law enforcement and crime reduction programs.”

The resolution doesn’t point out, however, how “violent and dangerous offenders” are defined—and there’s no indication that any conservative groups are moving toward abolishing prisons any time soon. 

(h/t ThinkProgress

Dream Defenders Leave Capitol, Heading for Governor’s Home

Dream Defenders Leave Capitol, Heading for Governor's Home

The youth organizers of the Dream Defenders civil rights collective stood their ground and slept on the grounds of the Florida state capitol building for a full month in response to the “not guilty” verdict for George Zimmerman for killing Trayvon Martin. That chapter is now drawing to a close, they announced today. They are now embarking on new actions across the state to draw attention to unjust policies that the youth leaders say made Trayvon’s death and Zimmerman’s acquittal possible: Stand Your Ground laws, school-to-prison pipeline policies and racial profiling. The Defenders begin their new journey today by marching to Gov. Rick Scott’s home to deliver an “eviction notice.”

Former NAACP chairman Julian Bond was present with the Dream Defenders as they made the announcement and he said the youth activists were “ending a protest because [they] are starting a movement.”

“We came here to the capitol because we wanted what we all deserve—a seat at the table,” said Dream Defenders director Phillip Agnew at a press conference this afternoon, “and we said we were willing to stay here until our work was done.”

Their work will continue, said Agnew, but instead of staging sit-ins, teach-ins and making demands from the capitol building, the youth activists will be taking the fight back to their communities. In the meanwhile, the Dream Defenders can list a number of accomplishments in their 31-day stand-in that will probably send a bunch of Tea Party activists back to the drawing board.

  • The Defenders called for state legislative hearings on Stand Your Ground laws, and were originally denied their request, but then Speaker of the House Will Weatherford called for a subcommittee to host hearings in the fall. “We look forward to having that debate because we know that Stand Your Ground don’t have a ground to stand on,” said Agnew.
  • They’ve secured meetings with the heads of the Florida  Department of Education and the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice to discuss “zero tolerance” school policies.  
  • They authored a bill “Trayvon’s Law,” which the youth organizers will help state senators workshop through briefings and conferences.
  • In addition to having that bill filed, they triggered a legislative poll, a head count to see where legislators stand today on the issue so the organizers know who to target. 
  •  The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has agreed to discuss racial profiling policies, where Defenders will have the opportunity to bring experts in the field to testify before the department. 

Beyond that, the Defenders have initiated a massive voter registration drive, drawn celebrities from Talib Kweli to Jesse Jackson to the movement, and earned the attention of mainstream media outlets from The New York Times to MSNBC

“This is the last time I’m going to sleep on any floor,” said Agnew. “Now the real work begins. Our work has grown too big for these halls.”


Hospital Reverses Decision On Anthony Stokes Heart Transplant

Hospital Reverses Decision On Anthony Stokes Heart Transplant

Anthony Stokes has a chance at a heart transplant now that doctors at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta will put him on the wait list, reversing last week’s decision to keep him off the list because of “non-compliance.” The hospital has yet to comment on why Stokes was found “non-compliant,” saying only that they “follow very specific criteria in determining eligibility” for transplants and that they would be working closely with the family.” 

Stokes’s mother Melencia Hamilton told CNN the doctors said their decision was partly based on her son’s poor grades in school and juvenile criminal record. He also has tattoos and wears an ankle bracelet, allegedly from an incident where he was defending his younger brother. According to a spokesman for the family, Stokes will be put at the top of the list because his condition is so severe.

Supporters came together this week to bring attention to Stoke’s case, creating an online petition to pressure the hospital. His family is thrilled by the hospital’s decision, but it could be 3—4 months before Stokes receives the transplant that could save his life.

Basquiat’s Artist Studio Is on Air Bnb For $650 a Night

Basquiat's Artist Studio Is on Air Bnb For $650 a Night

There’s an “exciting new listing!” on Air BnB for Jean-Michel Basquiat’s former studio. But you probably won’t be able to stay there — because it costs $650 a night.

Like most things in SoHo since Basquiat’s untimely death in 1988, the artist’s loft has been significantly renovated. Just check out the photos.

For some context, here’s video of Basquiat in his loft back in the ’80s (interview starts around 1:04).

(h/t Gothamist)


Six Facts About Harriet Tubman That Have Nothing to Do With Russell Simmons

Six Facts About Harriet Tubman That Have Nothing to Do With Russell Simmons

1. Harriet Tubman’s birth name was Aramita (“Minty”) Ross. She was born enslaved in Maryland sometime in 1820.

2. Tubman escaped slavery with her brother, Ben and Harry, on September 17, 1849.


3. Tubman is most famous for her role as a conductor on the Underground Railroad, in which she led escaped slaves to freedom. Estimates vary, but Tubman is said to have helped anywhere from dozens to hundreds of slaves reach freedom. She was once quoted as saying, “I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.”

4. During the Civil War, Tubman worked for the Union army as a cook, nurse, and spy. She was also the first woman to lead an expedition in the war and guided the Combahee River Raid, which freed 700 slaves. Decades later, the raid would inspire a groundbreaking group of black feminists called the Combahee River Collective.

5. Tubman’s life has inspired countless works for art, including poems, comic books, and films.

6. This year marks that 100th anniversary of Harriet Tubman’s death. Maryland has a series of commemorative events

Kal Penn Tweets in Support of Stop-and-Frisk

Kal Penn Tweets in Support of Stop-and-Frisk

Update on 8/16/13: Cololrines publisher Rinku Sen and a coalition of South Asian leaders write open letter opposing stop and frisk, and Kal Penn offers agreement.


For a guy who launched his career with the stoner movie “Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle,” actor Kal Penn’s recent tweets in support of stop-and-frisk come as a surprise. Yesterday, he applauded NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s recent op-ed, saying “Great op/ed by @MikeBloomberg on the merits of “stop-question-frisk.”

In a series of tweets, which have since been deleted but were saved by The Aerogram, he responds to criticism from fans, saying he supports racially profiling black and Latino people because they commit most crimes. 


It seems he’s had a change of heart around racial profiling. In a 2011 interview with GQ he said he’d experienced racial profiling at the airport, and thought the practice was counterproductive. And, ironically, Penn’s recent film “Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo” centers around two college friends who are racially profiled as terrorists. 

(h/t The Aerogram

That Time Lee Daniels’ ‘The Butler’ Was Bashed as ‘Historical Porn’

That Time Lee Daniels' 'The Butler' Was Bashed as 'Historical Porn'

Lee Daniels’ “The Butler” hits theaters this weekend, and there’s at least one person who’s decidedly not excited to see it: actor Harry Lennox. In a wide-ranging conversation with Sergio over at Shadow and Act earlier this summer, Lennox doesn’t hold back on his criticisms of the film, specifically, and black imagery in the media, more generally:

Which leads me to asking do you constantly have to think about the image you are portraying as black man every time to do a role?

“I think about it every day and any time that a role is offered, and believe me lots of crummy roles are offered. But at this point people know better than to mess with me with a lot of these things. For example Lee Daniels sent me the script for that film he’s making now, The Butler, about the black butler at the White House. I read five pages of this thing and could not go any further. I tried to read more of it, and I’m not a soft spoken guy, but it was such an appalling mis-direction of history in terms of taking an actual guy who worked at the White House. But then he “niggerfies” it. He “niggers” it up and he gives people these, stupid, luddite, antediluvian ideas about black people and their roles in the historical span in the White House and it becomes… well… historical porn. I refused.”

Read more over at Shadow and Act.

Russell Simmons Apologizes for Harriet Tubman Sex Tape

Russell Simmons Apologizes for Harriet Tubman Sex Tape

UPDATE 10:44 am EST: We’ve removed the video. It’s truly disgusting. 


Yes, you read that headline correctly. Someone in Russell Simmons’s camp thought it would be a good idea to release a Harriet Tubman sex tape parody. Predictably, not many people thought it was funny. Shocked and outraged viewers, including the NAACP, thought the video was a desecration of the legendary abolitionist’s legacy, according to the Kansas City Star.

On Thursday, Simmons issued a lengthy apology on his, writing:

In the whole history of Def Comedy Jam, I’ve never taken down a controversial comedian,” he wrote. “When my buddies from the NAACP called and asked me to take down the Harriet Tubman video from the All Def Digital YouTube channel and apologize, I agreed.

“I’m a very liberal person with thick skin and it’s hard to offend me. My first impression of the Harriet Tubman piece was that it was about what one of actors said in the video, that 162 years later, there’s still tremendous injustice. And Harriet Tubman outwitting the slave master, I thought it was politically correct. Silly me.”

Shabazz Palaces’ Ishmael Butler Wants to Sign Imaginative Acts to Seattle Label

Shabazz Palaces' Ishmael Butler Wants to Sign Imaginative Acts to Seattle Label

Ishmael Butler was well known to hip-hop fans before his latest hip-hop collective “Shabazz Palaces” began to make waves beyond their Seattle headquarters. Butler was formerly part of Digable Planets and Cherrywine, and along with making music, he’s also got a new gig: A&R rep for Seattle-based label Sub Pop.

What’s he looking for in the groups he’s scouting?  “Courageous artists, independent-thinking artists,” Butler told Billboard. “Artists that aren’t relying on trends or superficial things to get noticed, artists that are more musically inclined rather than image inclined, artists that are hard workers and … cool.” 

(h/t Billboard)

Five Things We Know About DACA on its First Anniversary

Five Things We Know About DACA on its First Anniversary

The Brookings Institute released a report today looking at the last year of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, a band aid approach to addressing immigration reform for the estimated 1.6 million undocumented immigrant youth living in the U.S. DACA is by no means a permanent solution, but it does offer temporary reprieve from deportation and work authorization.

Nearly half of the estimated 936,000 eligible immigrants have applied and received DACA, and with immigration unlikely to pass this year it’s a significant option for many DREAMers. While the report is just a snapshot that doesn’t go into the program’s successes or failures, it does provide some insight into DREAMer demographics. A few things we know so far about DACA applicants: 

1. More than half of those eligible have applied, but applications have been on the decline.

USCIS has received 557,412 applications between August 2012 and June 2013. Of those, 74.5 percent have been approved, 24.5 percent are still being reviewed, and only 1 percent has been declined. 

To qualify for DACA, applicants must meet strict requirements around age, amount of time they’ve lived in the U.S., current school enrollment, and a clean criminal record, in addition to the $465 application fee. The numerous requirements are prohibitive for many immigrants, and according to the Brookings Institute older DREAMers may have a tougher time meeting all the requirements. In particular, proving continuous residence in the U.S. since 2007 involves documentation that may be challenging for older immigrants or those who have moved frequently. 

2. The vast majority of applicants are from Latin America, but the accepted applicant pool is a little more diverse.

Although DACA applicants hail from 192 countries, nearly all of them come from 25 predominantly Latin American countries. Mexican immigrants dominate the DACA applicant pool at 74.9 percent, with immigrants from El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Peru, Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador also showing high numbers.  

Despite the high number of Mexican applicants, immigrants with higher-than-average approvals ratings are more varied. Applicants from South Korea, Philippines, Peru, India, Argentina, Ecuador, Colombia and Brazil have higher approval ratings, whereas only 57 percent of Mexican-born applicants have been approved. And some countries have lower-than-average approval ratings, such as El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, and Venezuela. 

3. Applications reflect migration patterns

Perhaps not surprisingly, California, Texas, New York, Illinois, and Florida have the largest number of DACA applicants. Over the past ten years these states have also had the fastest-growing immigrant populations in the country, and have ranked highest in number of undocumented immigrants. East Coast states have more diverse applicant demographics, with New York being the most widely varied in applicant countries of origin. 

4. Most applicants are under 21, and are evenly split male and female

While one-third of DACA applicants were between 15-18 years old, 54 percent were younger than 21 years old. There are only slight deviations between men and women across age groups and states, with women trending only slightly older overall. 

5. They were young when they arrived and have been here for a while

Nearly three-quarters of applicants have been in the U.S. for more than 10 years, and about one-third were younger than 5-years-old when the arrived. The period from 1994—2001 had the highest influx of immigrants to the U.S. over the past two decades.

Cory Booker Wins Senate Primary Easily, Despite Criticism

Cory Booker Wins Senate Primary Easily, Despite Criticism

The people have spoken in New Jersey — at least the Democrats have — and Newark Mayor Cory Booker is the winner of the special primary election to replace deceased Sen. Frank Lautenberg. While criticisms of 44-year-old Booker as a mayor and as a candidate are plentiful, moderation seems the unavoidable tax for African-American candidates looking to win statewide offices in states like New Jersey. If Booker wins the general election, he will be the first African American candidate to represent New Jersey in the U.S. Senate, the sixth African American in the nation’s history elected to the U.S. Senate, and only the fourth popularly elected (two Senators from Mississippi, Hiram Rhodes Revels and Blanche Kelso Bruce, were elected to the U.S. Senate by the state senate). 

Also, New Jersey will be the only state with people of color serving as both of its representatives in the U.S. Senate — and the first state in history to do so (other than Hawaii, where people of color are the majority), writes political columnist Mike Kelly. The other senator is Robert Menendez, a Cuban-American Democrat. 

The fact that Booker has such huge support in New Jersey — his closest opponent Rep. Frank Pallone brought in just over 20 percent of the votes to Booker’s 60-plus percent — is no small feat, even with New Jersey’s strong Democratic lean. The state is still run by a Republican governor, Chris Christie, and a popular one at that. And Mitt Romney won over 40 percent of New Jersey voters last November (though Obama won the largest share of votes for a Democratic candidate in the state since 1964). But the state has never elected an African American to a statewide office. Only 14.7 percent of the population is African American compared to a 73.8 percent white population. Latino Americans make up 18.5 percent of the state.

This means that Booker needed a broad, multi-racial pool of voters to win the special election against two of his white primary opponents, and will need the same to defeat his Republican opponent Steve Lonegan.

He will also need money. While Booker has drawn much controversy for reeling in millions from Facebook and other Silicon Valley investors, having an outsized celebrity profile, and recently skipping NAACP events to raise money with non-New Jersey constituents like Oprah Winfrey, the stakes are certainly high enough in U.S. Senate races for such political maneuvering. Failing to focus on black communities and courting the Hollywood crowd are the same criticisms that were filed against Barack Obama as he became the first black president of the United States. African-American Democratic candidates for statewide offices have either had to opt for political moderation that angers African-American and progressive constituencies, or run from the far right as Republicans, like former U.S. Rep. Allen West in Florida. 

Lonegan, the legally blind, climate change-denying, anti-immigrant, Koch Brothers-funded Republican candidate has promised Booker a “street fight.” But all that money raised by Oprah and other Silicon Valley millionaires has already come in handy for Booker, who is already in the general election race, as rapper Q-Tip said while DJing Booker’s party last night, “waaaayyy ahead.”  

Booker’s primary win comes on the eve of the sentencing of former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. — son of civil rights activist Jesse Jackson Sr. and once largely popular black congressman with a promising future — who was given two-and-a-half years in prison for misspending campaign funds.

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