Elijah Cummings

As Americans of Color, we have critical decisions to make in the elections this year, decisions that will affect our own lives and the lives of the generations of Americans yet to be born.

This is our challenge.  Do we do everything within our power to sustain and build upon the progress that we have achieved with President Obama’s leadership — or do we stand by and allow the relentless opposition of the reactionary right to prevail?

Any who may wonder whether I am overstating the importance of this election should consider the sharply contrasting visions for our future that the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates are proposing.

We must ask ourselves:  Where — if anywhere — are our dreams for a better future reflected in these alternative visions?

Secretary Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders (each with an extensive history of standing with us in our efforts to build better lives) are vigorously competing for the votes of Americans of Color.  In sharp contrast, however, for Donald Trump and his competitors for the other party’s nomination, it is as if we do not exist.

Therein, I submit, is the crux of this election for African Americans.

I am reminded of President Obama’s challenge to us on the night of his election in 2008.  His election, he declared, was not the ultimate change that we sought to achieve, but, rather, the opportunity to struggle together to create that change.

Our President was able to make this inspiring declaration because we had formed a winning coalition with other progressive Americans to win that historic victory.  In electing America’s first Black President, we were able to halt our nation’s slide into the economic injustice, international insanity and social indifference of the Bush Administration years.

Then, during the first two years of President Obama’s Administration, we made major strides toward healing our economic disaster, better protecting our families’ health, rationalizing our foreign policy, and setting America on a course toward a more-sustainable environmental future.

However, in the 2010 congressional elections, the forces of reaction struck back — and, as a result of their obstruction, our government became gridlocked.

Yet, our determination to move forward was only strengthened.  In 2012, Americans of Color once again registered and voted for a better, more inclusive future — helping President Obama win his second term.

In 2012, for the first time in any presidential election, eligible African American voters voted at a higher rate (66% vs. 64%) than did our Caucasian countrymen and women.  As analysists for the widely respected Cook Political Report have concluded, African American voters accounted for President Obama’s entire margin of victory in seven states: Florida, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

I recall these facts because, this year, the balance of political forces in our country again makes the active and enthusiastic engagement of Americans of Color as a decisive factor in the Presidential Election.

I should also note that the seven states in which African American voters were essential to President Obama’s 2012 victory are the same states (along with Illinois, Wisconsin and North Carolina) in which we have the ability to restore the United States Senate as the truly deliberative governing body that our Constitution envisions.

To emphasize the importance of that restoration, we need only consider this fact.

Without even knowing which capable jurist President Obama will nominate to succeed Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the Republican Senate leadership has declared that they refuse to give President Obama’s nominee to the Court either a hearing or a vote.

This total disregard for the importance of a fully functioning Supreme Court (and the constitutional prerogative and duty of America’s first Black President) is a total abrogation of the Senate’s constitutional obligation to “advise and consent.”

It is an act of conscious obstruction to the proper functioning of our government that is so antithetical to our constitutional principles that it raises a legitimate question about the Senate Republican majority’s suitability to govern.

We have the ability to correct this fundamental failing on Election Day by our active engagement at levels that equal or surpass our civic participation as voters in 2008 and 2012.

We are in a struggle, and I do not minimize the challenge of overcoming Republican efforts to suppress our voting power.

Yet, I remain convinced that, once again, we can overcome voter suppression and prevail this year.

Congressman Elijah Cummings represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.