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‘Couch 2024’: Some Pro-Reparations Activists Are Encouraging Black Voters to Stay Home

Supporters of reparations are split over whether to work with Democrats or to stick this election out without substantial action from President Joe Biden.

A man wears a "Support Reparations" button.
President Joe Biden previously voiced support for studying reparations, but hasn’t discussed the issue much since. Eric Risberg/AP

Some Black activists think voters should stay home this November if President Joe Biden doesn’t make a substantial push for reparations — even if that means former President Donald Trump is elected instead.

But they’re at odds with others who warn that Democrats offer their best chance at enacting policy that pays back the descendants of enslaved people.

“A Trump presidency would set us far back in regards to reparations,” one House staffer involved in reparations advocacy told NOTUS. “The lines of communication are very much open with the Biden administration thus far. They’ve been listening to advocates and leaders in Congress on the urgent need for this stuff.”

Both camps of reparations activists have roughly the same end goal. Like many activists who are frustrated with Biden over policy choices, they are facing a question that could swing the election: Do they want to keep supporting Democrats if there’s little progress on a motivating issue? Or should they send a message by sitting this election out?Black lawmakers and activists say that firmly backing reparations could help Biden break through the apathy he’s currently facing with Black voters, a majority of whom support reparations, according to a 2022 Pew Research Center poll. It’s unclear whether reparations are a make-or-break issue for a large subset of those voters.

But there is a movement to make it one — and some evidence that it’s gaining traction.

“The strategy we’re employing is, if no [presidential] candidate is going to give us reparations, it’s OK to sit out the election,” Tariq Nasheed, organizer of the annual Rally 4 Reparations, told NOTUS. “When we have an unjust system that’s going to continue to be unjust, we only legitimize it by sitting there supporting it, knowing that they’ll do nothing for us.”

Nasheed is an influencer and civil rights activist with a reach of nearly 1 million followers across social media platforms. He is a proponent of “Foundational Black Americans,” a movement he founded that demands reparations specifically for those who can trace their lineage to enslaved Americans.

On Saturday, hundreds of his followers came from all over the country to meet on Freedom Plaza, many of them with homemade posters and signs reading “Couch 2024” and “No tangibles, no vote.” In nearly 30 interviews with NOTUS, guests at the rally emphasized a growing frustration with Biden.

“For me and probably everybody else here, the Democrats are not an option,” one attendee who traveled from Jacksonville, Florida, said. “I’m sorry, but supporting them gets you nothing. They actually do more to hurt Black men than help us.”

One poll last month found that the share of Black voters who say they are certain to vote is substantially lower now than at the same time in 2020. Another showed support growing for former President Donald Trump among Black voters, over 20%. (Trump won 8% of the Black vote in 2020.)

Despite Biden campaign efforts in messaging to draw a heavy distinction between the parties, one speaker at this weekend’s rally dismisses the attempts.

“Democrats often try to give the facade of being a party that’s for us by creating a good cop, bad cop situation with Republicans,” Gregg Marcel Dixon, a third-party candidate for South Carolina’s 6th Congressional District, told NOTUS. “I don’t care if you think you’re not as bad as the Republicans; you’re both equally bad in my eyes if you’re not offering us anything.”

The Biden and Trump campaigns did not respond to requests for comments. As a candidate for president in 2020, Biden backed the idea of studying reparations for Black Americans but hasn’t discussed it much publicly since. In a 2019 interview, Trump said the concept is “unusual” and “interesting” but that he doesn’t see it happening.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. campaign spokesperson Stefanie Spear told NOTUS that “cash reparations are politically impossible right now, but there is a lot we can do for America’s most devastated communities.” She noted policies including criminal justice reform, child care subsidies, microloans and tax breaks.

Some supporters of reparations believe supporting Democrats is the obvious choice.

“If we don’t maintain the presidency, if we don’t get a Congress that wants to fight for us, then nothing is possible,” Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson told NOTUS.

She was among the speakers at a competing reparations event on Saturday, organized by the National Black Justice Coalition and Unity by Equity. It was decidedly more focused on working within the political system: The march was the finale to a week’s worth of events meant to encourage Black voters to register to vote and draw attention to reparations and other causes.

“Our message to people has been to make every use of their vote,” said Marcus Hunter, executive director of Unity by Equity. “Vote in November and vote again when midterms roll around. But also, organize and engage others around you to participate.”

While these advocates agree that Biden has work to do in order to truly improve the lives of Black people in America, they also feel the stakes of the election are too high to either stay home or support another party.

Still, activists said they understand why some Black Americans are considering sitting the election out.

“We have to understand that there are people who feel like they don’t see themselves in this election,” said Tamika Mallory, former executive director of Al Sharpton’s National Action Network and a former Women’s March co-chair. “We have to accept that everyone is not going to be motivated to go to the polls, but they were out here with other Black folks calling for reparations, and we don’t get to leave anybody behind.”

Calen Razor is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.