‘I need you’: Biden-Harris campaign launches initiative to court Black voters

Gearing up for the 2024 election, the Biden-Harris campaign launched its Black voters initiative on Wednesday at Philadelphia’s Girard College, a majority Black boarding school.

Around 2pm in an auditorium filled with hundreds of Black Philly residents, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris approached the podium to applause and an audience shouting “four more years”.

As the president listed off his accomplishments that affected Black voters during his presidency, Biden repeated the refrain “a promise made and a promise kept”. He said that he has relieved student debt for nearly 5 million Americans, banned police chokeholds, created databases for police misconduct, and appointed the first Black woman on the supreme court.

Those accomplishments, Biden said, were made possible through the “enormous trust” that Black voters placed in him in 2020.

Harris told the crowd that as a candidate, Biden gave his word of fighting some of the biggest issues facing the Black community, such as capping the cost of insulin at $35 a month for seniors, and removing medical debt as a factor on a credit score.

“Thank you!” an audience member shouted.

Turning to the election, Biden said: “We’re going to make Donald Trump a loser again. I’m still optimistic, but I need you.” His one question for Black voters: “Are you with me?” The crowd stood up as they shouted back “yes”.

A few blocks outside of the event, a small group of protesters who wore keffiyehs served as a reminder of many younger voters’ disgruntlement with Biden’s support of Israel’s war on Gaza.

But back in the auditorium, gospel singers dressed in black sang Oh Happy Day as they stood underneath a large blue poster that read “Black Voters for Biden-Harris”. Girard College students dressed in maroon shirts clapped from the bleachers. The audience skewed older, with some attendees holding signs that read “Historically Black”.

Verna Hutchinson-Toler, a 75-year-old voter from Bucks county, Pennsylvania, said that she came out in support of Biden because she’s “passionate about voter registration as a social determinant of health”. She referenced research that showed that communities with a high amount of registered voters get the most attention to their environmental and healthcare needs.

As a chaplain at the Children’s hospital of Philadelphia, Hutchinson-Toler has seen patients who are the victims of gun violence, which has fueled her advocacy for gun control. “Personally I feel his track record has been amazing,” she said about Biden’s crackdown on ghost guns.

Zelma Carroll, a 57-year-old certified nursing assistant from Philadelphia, was grateful that Biden wiped away some of her daughter’s student loans from Penn State University. Carroll had canvassed for the Biden-Harris campaign four years ago and plans to do so again soon. “I just hope that they get in our neighborhoods and let people know where we’re going, where we need to be and we can’t go back,” Carroll said. “We can’t let Trump in.”

Winston Cameron, a registered independent, said that he came to the event to “hear from the horse’s mouth”. Cameron voted for Biden in 2020 and was uncertain if he would vote for him again. For Cameron, a 35-year-old student originally from Jamaica, immigration and the economy are the issues he’s most concerned about. “It could be better,” Cameron said about Biden’s accomplishments in those arenas. “I can see the positive changes that he’s trying to implement, but I think it’s still a weak stance.” Nevertheless, Cameron said, he was satisfied with Biden’s attention to Dreamers, immigrants who arrived to the US as children. Earlier this month, the Biden administration finalized a rule that would give healthcare coverage to Dreamers.

Overall, the audience at Wednesday’s event was energized by the administration’s Black voters’ initiative. But perhaps most of all, they wanted to ensure that Trump didn’t win the election again. “My only issue that I’m concerned about is that other guy coming back,” said 77-year-old Philadelphia resident Rick Harper, a delegate for the Democratic national convention in August. “I’m very happy with President Biden and Vice-President Harris.”

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