Meet 6 Democrats Of Color Who Want To See Their Party Change
Welcome to Voices Of Color, a column that explores what’s on the minds of voters of color in this year’s midterm elections. Too often, media coverage focuses on the political preferences of white people with euphemisms like “suburban women” or “middle class.” But in this column, we want to know what makes voters of color tick.
We want to explore their views on politics, policy, the future of our democracy, our two-party system and everything in between. We hope that this column offers fresh perspectives from the minds of those whose political opinions are often overlooked or assumed. If you think you might be a good fit for this column, fill out this form — we might get in touch.
Voting is always a family affair for Mario Reynoso. “We all get our absentee ballots, we fill them out together and we talk about the candidates that we like. That’s the family that I grew up in,” he told me. But while the 30-year-old still plans to cast a ballot in this year’s midterm elections, Reynoso said he can’t get as excited about voting this year.
The main reason? President Biden and his lack of meaningful action on a number of policy issues important to Reynoso, including immigration and climate change — despite some recent Democratic victories on the latter.
On the one hand, Biden and Democrats are experiencing a bit of an upswing, thanks in part to a number of recent policy successes. Inflation has also slowed, and average gas prices have fallen below $4 per gallon. Still, these wins alone haven’t been enough for many Democratic or Democratic-leaning voters of color who see their rights and values under attack. With the GOP favored to take control of the U.S. House and having a shot at the U.S. Senate in November, many of these voters are asking the Biden administration for stronger actions and reactions to Supreme Court rulings and the laws being pushed by Republican state legislatures. “Biden promoted himself during his presidential campaign as being this sort of ‘great unifier,’ but he hasn’t been fully able to get everything done,” said Justice Gaines, 27, who ran for Providence City Council in 2018. “Fortunately, we did get the Inflation Reduction Act. But there’s still a lot of things that are important to more progressive voters that haven’t gotten done.”
To be sure, since July, Biden’s approval among Black and Hispanic voters has ticked up slightly, but it’s nowhere near where it was when he first became president. Polling and reporting also suggests that Biden might have a long way to go to regain their favor. For example, a Washington Post-Ipsos poll conducted in April and May of this year found that Black voters were waning in their support for Biden due to unkept campaign promises and were less enthusiastic about voting in this year’s midterm elections. Things like high inflation rates have also reportedly pushed some Hispanic voters further right. And limited polling on Asian American voters — who comprised about 4 percent of the electorate in 2020 — suggests that Biden has lost some ground with them, too.
“There are things that the Democratic Party does that I’m not happy with,” Neil Sharma, 19, told me. “I’m still going to vote for Democrats, but there are things I’d like to see the party change.”
I wanted to better understand why so many Democrats of color were disillusioned and what motivates them to continue to vote for Democrats — even after admitting that the party hasn’t quite met their expectations. In total, I spoke with six voters of color (four Democrats; two left-leaning independent voters) who expressed disappointment with the party under Biden’s leadership. What I learned is that, despite their quibbles, it would take a lot for them to either: 1) not vote or 2) support a Republican candidate. (They’ll explain why below.) They also think the Democratic Party, as it is now, hasn’t done enough to foster a bench of younger candidates of color to eventually replace current leadership. “Today’s Democratic leaders need to step down and create space for younger, more creative, thinkers who are better connected with their communities,” said 34-year-old Laura Taylor. “Older politicians past the retirement age shouldn’t put their power or reputation above progress for our people.”
The interviews below have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Alex Samuels: Why would you say you’re disillusioned with the Democratic Party?
Mario Reynoso (Hispanic, 30, Washington, D.C.): Democrats don’t know what to do with Latinos and immigration. You see all these stories coming out about people brought to Washington, D.C., and the Democratic mayor wants nothing to do with them. And on the federal level, I just feel like leadership is kicking the can down the road with the Latino community and immigration.
David Gonzalez (Hispanic, 43, Missouri): With Democrats having control of the presidency, U.S. House and U.S. Senate, I was feeling like more drastic, progressive change would happen. And it hasn’t. Even though the Supreme Court’s announcement in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health that it would overturn Roe v. Wade was a big flashpoint, there were warning signs from Republicans all along that this would happen — and that still wasn’t enough to motivate Democrats to do anything. So I think that there’s a lack of urgency among Democratic leaders. And frankly, there’s no energizing leaders in the party.
Peter Lim (Filipino and white, 29, Michigan): My first early experiences with politics was during the 2012 election. At the time, I felt like there was a lot of hope and change, but over the last 10 years or so it feels like all that hope and change has been undone. It feels as if the Democratic Party as a whole is almost stagnated.
Justice Gaines (Black, 27, Rhode Island): I was one of those voters who kind of sucked it up and voted for Biden because the Republican Party and [former President Donald] Trump were not something I could support. I feel like the Democratic Party likes to make lots of promises and encourages voters, particularly Black voters, like myself, and marginalized people to vote for them, and then they don’t show up when they’re elected.
AS: Do you feel like the Democratic Party represents you?
Neil Sharma (Indian American, 19, New York): I wouldn’t say that it represents exactly what I believe, but it represents enough of what I believe in.
Laura Taylor (French Creole, 34, New York): The Democratic Party leadership doesn’t represent me and doesn’t represent the majority of the country today. Most of us are not old, wealthy white people. Today’s leaders are out of touch with the average American’s needs and wants, and that’s why Democrats struggle to connect and communicate in ways that keep voters motivated.
Gonzalez: At the local level, there’s representation that’s in line with where I am. In St. Louis, we have a very electrifying progressive representative [Rep. Cori Bush] who I think is a great fit for us. But nationally, the party isn’t reflective of younger or more diverse voters, frankly.
Gaines: No, I think the Democratic Party today continues to represent itself. I’ve always seen the party protect its power and ability to gain voters at the expense of the people who vote for them.
AS: What has the Democratic Party done under President Biden that you like?
Reynoso: Navigating us through the COVID-19 pandemic has been a high mark, and there’s a certain amount of bills passed in the last year, too, that I really liked, such as the CHIPS Act and the Inflation Reduction Act.
Taylor: It was important to do pandemic stimulus to relieve the unprecedented economic and personal pain our country was struggling with. I also think that the recent passage of the Inflation Reduction Act was important. And Ketanji Brown Jackson is a game changer of a Supreme Court pick. It’s exciting and inspiring to see a brilliant woman who looks like my aunts and friends on the bench of the most powerful court in the country. And I can’t believe I almost forgot this, but having Deb Haaland, the first Native American cabinet secretary, who is also a woman, in charge of our lands feels like a very meaningful step forward.
AS: What things do you wish the Biden administration would tackle?
Reynoso: I think the messaging is off when it comes to inflation. In other words, I don’t think the administration has been very strong or upfront about how inflation is going to be for the next couple of years. I think we just need more honesty there. And immigration is a perennial issue for the party that seems to always get ignored.
Gonzalez: My biggest complaint with Biden is that I don’t feel like he is in step with the modern political climate. Biden ran on this centrist platform that was reflective of his years in the Senate when there was more working across the aisle. But I don’t think that’s the climate these days. A lot of Republicans have really caught wind of that, and that’s how they’re operating. So we have a Republican side that’s energized, who sees politics as a zero-sum game, and then you have the leader of the Democratic Party, Biden, who I think is still operating under this old way of politics and doing things. I also wish the Biden administration would make real strides with climate change, LGBTQ+ rights and health care. These are things that probably have to pass along party lines and I don’t know if Biden could get Democrats in line to make those things happen or has the desire to make a number of executive orders.
Gaines: I really think Biden needs to work a lot harder on making sure everyone has access to safe abortions. This is an issue that is immediately affecting people, and I don’t think he has a grasp of how big the impact of overturning Roe is.
AS: What would you like to see change about the Democratic Party, if anything?
Gonzalez: I’d like to see some younger leaders. On both sides, at least for the last couple of years, it has been older people running, and we’re back to the same old, white guys. It’s looking like that for 2024, unfortunately, too.
Lim: I wish mainstream Democrats weren’t as hostile toward more progressive candidates. I was a supporter of [Vermont Sen. Bernie] Sanders for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, and to see Democrats and the Democratic National Committee ganging up on him to get him out of the primary was disappointing. A lot of younger Democrats have more progressive views, and we’re getting tired of being ignored or being told that our views are a pipe dream.
AS: What would it take for you to vote for a Republican?
Reynoso: It would have to shed what I consider to be really toxic elements of the party. If they were to start giving up some of these radical conservative ideals and began pivoting toward appeals to Black and Latino voters and issues that impact our communities, then I think I would be more open to voting Republican.
Sharma: There’s two scenarios: The first is if I move to a place where a Republican is guaranteed to win, like Wyoming. If I lived there now, for example, I would have registered as a Republican to vote for outgoing Rep. Liz Cheney. The second scenario is if New York has a gubernatorial election and the Democratic candidate is former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whom I personally dislike. If the Democratic candidate was Cuomo — or someone like him — and the Republican candidate was a liberal like, say, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, or Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, then I would strongly consider voting for them.
Taylor: I would never, sorry. I am firm in my belief that today’s Republican Party is an existential threat to democracy and life on this planet.
Lim: I can appreciate the libertarian side of conservative politics, so they would have adhere to more of those values and beliefs versus what the party has become today.
AS: What would it take for you to not vote at all?
Gonzalez: To be completely frank, I didn’t vote in the Missouri primaries for the first time in a long time because I was just so apathetic. And I’m not very enthusiastic about voting this November, either. For the most part, though, I think I’ll always try to vote because it’s an important right and that we shouldn’t take that right for granted.
Lim: I’ve always considered voting important, and it would take a lot to really make me abandon everything, but Democrats would have to move further right in order for me to completely give up on them. But, even in the worst case scenario, I would still show up to vote for local offices, I would just give up hope on a federal level. As of right now, though, I’m still voting.
Sharma: I made a pledge to myself that I’m always going to vote — even if I’m not feeling up to it. Elections have consequences, even if they don’t happen right away.
Taylor: It is my duty as an American to vote according to my conscience and to do what I think is best for my country. I have definitely been disillusioned by failures of Democratic leadership and haven’t organized much for the midterms, but I still donate to Democratic candidates I believe in and cannot imagine a situation in which I wouldn’t vote — unless I was in the hospital or dead.
AS: What concerns you most about the current state of our country?
Reynoso: We are living in a country where there’s the “haves” and the “have-nots,” and the gap is growing rapidly. I got very lucky in my career, even though I don’t have a college degree, but I have friends with kids who have to get second jobs because the cost of living is so high. And I think that there are people who are having to make a choice between work or day care, and the inequalities in our society are becoming more and more apparent. Eventually, I think we’re going to hit a breaking point.
Sharma: The current state of the Republican Party and its embrace of Trump. You have a lot of racism and extremism that exists within that party, and we saw that boil over with the “great replacement” theory and the shooting that happened in Buffalo, New York, which was horrible.
Taylor: The extreme divisiveness.
AS: What would your ideal political party look like?
Sharma: My perfect party would be center-left and would embrace the idea of using the federal government to improve people’s lives. It would also reject taking money from wealthy corporations and seek to build an understanding of voters. As far as issues go, it would be heavily focused on improving the health care system and racial justice, but maybe not on some of the terms that a lot of people like to cry ‘woke’ about. Instead, it would focus more on things like improving Black women’s maternal mortality rate and dealing with environmental racism. I would also make sure that a woman’s right to choose is codified into law.
Lim: As far as issues go, we’d focus on climate change, abortion access and expanding rights for LGBTQ+ Americans. My ideal party would generally be more progressive in terms of how government spending is used, too. I would love to use the money currently spent on wars and military equipment to instead fund better infrastructure and generally just improve the world we live in. In modern American politics, the closest thing I’ve seen to a politician who I’d love to lead a party like this would be Sanders, though he is getting old.
Taylor: I would love to see an Oprah president and a Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson vice president. People who reflect the beautifully diverse reality of our electorate, as well as the best of what innovative communicators and resilient entrepreneurs can achieve in America. And I want to see them shaking hands, interacting with their constituents regularly, really listening and showing they care. That kind of quality connection is missing from today’s Democratic leadership.
But those two are so wealthy and successful that I’m not sure they would want to take on the stress and chaos that is working as an elected representative in this country.