Blog Post

Working America in the NYT: Black Mississippians Explain Voting Doesn’t Solve Their Problems

Matt Morrison


The unexpectedly close upcoming Mississippi governor’s election represents a possible political shift in this historically deep red state. Black voters make up a third of the electorate here, more than in any other state.

Working in collaboration with the National NAACP, Working America organizers talked to working-class Black voters from neighborhoods with lower voter turnout rates. The New York Times described our work in Black communities in their recent deep dive into the election. As the Times story recounts, our conversations with these voters revealed that they are not apathetic, but disillusioned:

“Working America, a labor organization, in collaboration with the national and local N.A.A.C.P. — have knocked on nearly 5,000 doors. Voters’ top priorities are clear: economic opportunities, affordable housing and health care.
Yet the canvassers’ resulting study found that Black voters “did not identify voting as a mechanism to solve those issues.”…
“One voter told us they ‘would rather work that hour and make 18 more dollars than spend an hour being miserable to vote.’”

— New York Times, Oct. 17, 2023  

We knocked on doors across Mississippi—from north to south, rural to urban, the Delta to Jackson to Gulfport—to ask voters what they want to see from their government. The themes that emerged from these communities say a lot about how working-class Black voters are experiencing government and the economy. Or more precisely, how they are seeing the government and the economy fail them. You can listen to Ann, one voter we spoke with, give an eloquent explanation here.

While many political observers bemoan voter turnout levels in Black and working-class communities across the country, these voters are explaining the sobering reality of why they do not see a real stake in their government — an experience all too common in neighborhoods from Mississippi and Georgia to Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

At Working America, we are working to change those stakes. We are bridging the divide by showing people how the government can play a constructive role in their lives, and by empowering them to make the needed changes in government happen.

For example, in the difficult early days of the pandemic, when so many Americans were out of work, we partnered with the National Employment Law Project to help Black workers apply for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits. Historically, Black workers are only half as likely as all workers to be able to access the UI benefits they earned. Unlike many of our organizing efforts that rely on our direct contact with the worker or voter we’re trying to engage, we built networks of influencers for this campaign. We asked the uncle who was lending an unemployed worker rent money or the cousin who was letting them borrow her car to do the work of educating and persuading reluctant people to apply. The result, based on research by Columbia University’s Labor Lab, was that each of these influencers helped an average of three other people gain access to the benefits they earned, totaling more than $170 million in the first years of the pandemic.

This kind of organizing is critical to help build the political power of working class communities and drive the results we need on election day. As Crystal, one such influencer from Philadelphia, explained, when she and her girlfriends would meet in the parking lot of the coffee shop in the first year of the COVID pandemic she would share Working America resources on gaining UI benefits. Later, when Working America’s communications focused on elections, Crystal turned that friend groups’ discussions to voting, building on the credibility she had established earlier in the year. What better illustration of building strength in numbers.

Until next time, see you on the doors.


To support this work you can make a contribution to Working America here. Contributions to Working America are not tax deductible.

Or you could support our issue education and civic engagement work with a donation to the Working America Education Fund here. Contributions to the Working America Education may be tax deductible.



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