Politics Of Protests: How Voter Suppression Stands In The Way Of Fixing Racial Inequality

Jun 18, 2020

Social upheaval has grasped America from coast to coast in the last few weeks. It’s difficult to wrap up the pandemic, economic anxieties, racial justice, and elections all in one bundle — but they all played a hand in driving the protests over the last month. 

Jeffery Winters is Director of the Equality Development and Globalization Studies program at Northwestern University. He says much like the election of Donald Trump in 2016, many people were surprised by the magnitude of anger and frustration displayed during the protests for racial equality.

Winter says this highlights the fact that there are two vastly different experiences for white Americans and non-white Americans.

“[The killing of George Floyd] was not an outlier experience," says Winters. "And to witness that just tapped into a lived experience of a large swath of the American population. Between ‘Oh my god, where did this come from? This surge of activism, why all the anger and why all the looting and why the lack of patience?' It shows that we have at least two different Americas, one white and one not white.”

Many activists cite the lack of generational wealth in black and brown families as the real "looting." In 2017, the Federal Reserve published data citing that the average net worth of a black family was less than 15% the wealth of a white family.

In the past few months, this inequality has only grown as data shows that black residents in Milwaukee are the most impacted by COVID-19.

Winter says this is the problem with outrage over the looting of a Target or other large businesses.

“There’s no anger at the obscene level of re-distribution and massive inequality building right under their eyes at a level of trillions of dollars,” he says.

When it comes to the presidential election later this year, Winters does not expect either party to make fixing these inequalities a core part of their platform.   

President Trump has made racist remarks throughout his presidency and even encouraged killing looters during the protests. During discussions of inequality, his strategy has been to remark about creating a stronger economy for all, despite the fact that these inequalities have continued to grow. 

On the Democratic side, Winters expects the focus to be on removing Trump, "[Democrats'] goal is not necessarily to address inequality in America and racial issues in America. Their goal is to knock Donald Trump out of office," he says.

Winters expects the Democratic presidential campaign to try and stay more conservative to appeal to moderate voters. 

"If the Democrats can really get their base to show up and vote, we are going to see a massive shift in the United States," Winters says. "But if there is not energy for the agenda, for the candidates, then voter suppression efforts are really going to be what determines the outcome."