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Inside The Private Meetings Where Black Women Gave Team Biden An ‘Earful’

Joe Biden
Joe Biden speaks to community faith leaders in Los Angeles during the 2020 campaign. Richard Vogel/AP Photo

Influential Black women from around the country have met twice in recent weeks with Joe Biden’s reelection campaign, delivering an “earful” about concerns that, without serious changes, Black women who put the president over the top in 2020 won’t turn out for him in 2024.

At one virtual meeting, the women — including elected officials, Democratic Party members, strategists and clergywomen from battleground states — told the Biden campaign it needs to take immediate steps to engage Black women who feel disillusioned by the president’s first term.

A key issue at both gatherings: They say the campaign should add senior-level Black women at the national level, in key states and to the Democratic National Committee. They also asked for more campaign surrogates who represent a broader cross-section of the country’s racial, gender and geographic diversity. If the campaign wants to win over more Black women, they argued, it needs more people in positions of power with “lived experience” to fine-tune strategy and keep the vulnerable coalition that first propelled Biden to the White House intact.

“We need voices at the table, more than one of us, because representation matters and there’s power in numbers,” said Karen Weaver, a former mayor of Flint, Michigan, who participated in the January meeting with the campaign. “We wouldn’t have to suggest all these things if there were voices there. So this is a self-correction.”

Another person familiar with the meetings put it more bluntly: “There was a realization that if you had better representation on your senior staff, you might not need us to tell you all of this.”

The recommendations range from the minor — the campaign merch is a little dull, lacks variety and only went to size 2XL, which doesn’t appeal to a diverse range of supporters (now the Biden store boasts 3XL sizes) — to the more serious.

Women who participated in the January meeting said the campaign clearly is searching for a solid message to reach communities of color who have expressed dismay at Biden, curiosity toward third-party alternatives — or, even more worrisome to Democrats, openness to supporting former President Donald Trump.

“The problem with the campaign is that they don’t realize, sometimes, what’s going on on the ground level,” Rikki Jones, president of the Cook County Democratic Women and a co-organizer of one of the meetings, told NOTUS. She said the mood on the ground is different than at the national level and the campaign needs to engage with it. “So that was what we did. We wanted to be on one accord with the campaign.”

In recent polls and focus groups, many Black voters — including women — faulted Biden for failing to deliver on promises that would improve their lives.

At both meetings, women raised concerns about the campaign’s lack of a cohesive message reminding Black voters how it believed Biden had actually kept many of his 2020 commitments. In the January meeting, an attendee suggested the campaign create wallet-sized scorecards with Biden legislative wins that could be handed out around neighborhoods.

“One of the concerns is really communicating a message, and a clear message,” Weaver said. “Sometimes you’ll hear people, they don’t understand, ‘OK, what does Washington have to do with where I live right now and why is this even important? What are the accomplishments of this administration?’”

Mayor Karen Weaver of Flint, Michigan
Flint, Mich., Mayor Karen Weaver. J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

Black women voters hold tremendous electoral power, frequently credited as the backbone of the Democratic Party. That power reached its zenith in the 2020 election, when they made up 8% of the electorate, according to exit polls, and 90% of them supported Biden, propelling him to victory in key states like Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin. And they waged an organized campaign demanding Biden pick a Black woman as his vice president, leading to the selection of then-Sen. Kamala Harris.

That representation — and that of other Black women with prominent roles in the administration, like Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge — is important. But those officials aren’t involved in the nitty-gritty of shaping strategy on things like making sure the campaign’s national message is tweaked and tailored for individual constituencies.

Despite boasting a Latina national campaign manager, Julie Chávez Rodriguez, along with two Black men as deputy campaign manager and communication director, the campaign has yet to announce a Black woman in a senior-level national role. That’s not to say representation is nonexistent: The Biden campaign’s Nevada state campaign manager is a Black woman, and the DNC has a Black woman serving as political director.

“If they want Black women to really be on board, we need to see someone that mirrors us on that national level,” said Rev. Krista Alston, who also co-organized the January virtual meeting. “You’ve got to have representation.”

Deputy campaign manager Quentin Fulks, the most senior Black staffer at Biden’s national headquarters, was present at both meetings with Black women supporters. Fulks seemed receptive to the women’s comments at the meetings, according to attendees. All women whom NOTUS spoke with credited the campaign for productive meetings.

“This is the most collaborative I’ve ever felt from a campaign,” one attendee said, praising the campaign for engaging Black women early.

Fulks, they say, agreed that Black women needed to be at the table both in the national and state-level campaign teams. He committed to staffing these positions and encouraged the group to refer candidates together with their resumes. Fulks also promised he was trying to find women to fill key positions.

“He was open to the earful; he really took it well,” an attendee of the January meeting said. “If they don’t want to hear an earful, what are we here for?”

In the January meeting, Fulks asked in return that the two dozen women help organize voters on the ground. The campaign committed to a follow-up meeting to keep the conversation going.

A Biden campaign official confirmed to NOTUS that the campaign had committed to having Black women in senior roles, saying they are “too important of a constituency” to ignore.

“These ended up being very positive meetings, with promises to make sure that we’re investing in Black women because they’re a core constituency to the Democratic Party,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private meetings. “Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will not be reelected without Black women turning out to vote for us.”

The official argued there is a clear message for Biden’s reelection — and the “focus every day is just making sure [we] build a campaign that’s going to be able to deliver the message about what’s at stake and the freedoms that are being ripped away.”

The two previously unreported meetings indicate that the campaign is well aware of the apathy among Black voters of both genders and is trying to quickly plug their slow trickle to other candidates. (The campaign disputed that this was a symptom of something wrong, but instead, said it was an opportunity to rely on the groups as a “kitchen cabinet” of unofficial advisers.)

“They are paying attention or I don’t think this kind of thing would have taken place,” Weaver said of the meeting. “I’ve been around different campaigns where they’re like say, ‘Yeah we need your vote,’ but they don’t engage you until it’s right before the election.”

Asked if they think the campaign is attempting an early course correction, Jones said she sees it as more of an offensive than a defensive move: “What I see is them seeing a problem early on and trying to address it.”

“I think they’re listening,” Alston said.

Voter stickers
According to exit polls, Black women made up 8% of the electorate in 2020, and 90% of them supported Biden. Morry Gash/AP Photo

The Black women attendees will be watching to see what the Biden campaign does with their feedback — and whether it’s enough to reverse dismal poll data showing a slow but potentially damaging leak of people of color away from the Democratic Party.

The first major test of Biden’s strength with Black voters will be in the South Carolina and Nevada primaries, where the Democratic electorates are heavily Black and Latino. And the campaign hopes to post big numbers to show enthusiasm among this crucial Democratic base, defying a multitude of polls indicating they’re most likely to do otherwise.

On Monday, Biden is expected to give remarks at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. It will be the unofficial kickoff to his stepped-up campaign cadence for 2024. Harris also visited South Carolina, delivering remarks on freedom on Saturday to the 7th Episcopal District AME Church Women’s Missionary Society.

The back-to-back South Carolina trips “aren’t from a place of worry, they’re a place of practicing what we preach,” Fulks said on a recent call with reporters. “We’re not going to wait and parachute into these communities at the last minute and ask them for their vote. We’re going to earn their vote.”

A second Biden campaign official told NOTUS that they’re investing in voters of color earlier and with more resources than in previous cycles, hoping to pierce hard-to-reach communities and foster connection.

But despite traditional campaign efforts, many voters of color, including Black women, are showing signs of fatigue.

“There’s plenty of things that give me pause,” Cornell Belcher, a Democratic pollster, told NOTUS. “Are African American women, especially young African American women, as motivated, as engaged as I like for them to be? Hell no … But I understand that as a problem, so now we work to [solve] that problem.”


In the same week the Biden campaign held the first virtual meeting with a group of Black women, prominent political Black men had a meeting of their own with White House staff to discuss their own fears over how to corral apathetic or even third-party curious voters.

“In general, what we see is that there’s been a decline in enthusiasm. Now, the question becomes, how permanent is this?” Silas Lee, a political analyst who presented his survey and polling findings at the White House meeting on Black men voters, told NOTUS.

That December meeting was led by Steve Benjamin, the White House’s public engagement director. Campaign staffing wasn’t a key focus.

Those present generally concluded that not enough attention from Democrats has been paid to Black men, three people in the room told NOTUS. The White House needs to be stronger in spelling out how Black men have benefited economically under Biden. The New York Times first reported on that meeting.

“We have to do a better job of demonstrating how these policies — and the successes from this administration — how they impact the lives of African American men who are the nerve center of the communities in many cases,” Antjuan Seawright, a political strategist from South Carolina and close ally of key Biden-backer Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), told NOTUS.

In headline after headline, Black men have been singled out as the group most ready to leave the Democratic Party for perceived greener pastures. And increasingly, pundits theorize that path could lead to Trump, as Black men continue to be courted by the GOP. (Though Democrats say that outreach is misinformation.)

Black voters may not be at risk of turning to Trump en masse. But a small percentage declining to turn out for Biden could be catastrophic nonetheless.

“The idea that people who see the return of Donald Trump as the single greatest threat to the Black community — [that they] are also going to give him 25% of our support? That’s just not real,” said Adrianne Shropshire, who runs BlackPAC, a Black political organizing group that runs focus groups.

“But there is this sense of, ‘Is there another choice? Is there a third-party candidate that I can vote for?’”

Jasmine Wright is a reporter at NOTUS.