John King Milwaukee Black vote
She's been loyal to the Democratic Party. Why she's questioning her stance
02:06 - Source: CNN
Milwaukee CNN  — 

There was a Halloween haunted house to plan. Finding days on the fall calendar for neighborhood cleanup projects. A big report on criminal justice issues to finish.

Veteran organizer Angela Lang was more than busy.

But as she gave her neighborhood canvassing teams a morning pep talk recently, Lang made clear every door knock now is a critical building block for the election in November 2024.

“You all know that there is no way to win a statewide election that doesn’t run through you all, right?” said Lang, the founder and executive director of the Milwaukee group BLOC – Black Leaders Organizing for Communities.

“There is no way to win a statewide election that doesn’t run through the Black community,” Lang reminded nearly two dozen BLOC organizers about to hit the pavement. “Understanding the dynamics that Wisconsin is an incredible battleground state and is a swing state. What happens in Milwaukee can impact the rest of the state, which ultimately can impact the rest of the country.”

“No pressure.”

The pressure, of course, is enormous. Wisconsin is one of the battleground states that settles close presidential elections and Black turnout in Milwaukee is a pivotal piece of any Democratic path to victory. CNN recently visited Milwaukee as part of a new project designed to track the 2024 campaign through the eyes and experiences of voters in key areas. It was clear from three days spent in the predominantly Black neighborhoods on the city’s north side that President Joe Biden faces a daunting enthusiasm problem among voters essential to his reelection hopes.

Wisconsin swung from Donald Trump in 2016 to Biden in 2020, and with the former president the front-runner for the GOP nomination in 2024, the Badger State could again be forced to choose between the two men. Trump won it by just shy of 23,000 votes – and a drop in Milwaukee’s Black turnout was a major factor. Biden carried the state by just shy of 21,000 votes four years later, when better showings in Madison and the suburbs helped offset flat turnout in Milwaukee’s Black precincts.

Before hitting the streets, the roughly two dozen BLOC organizers in the morning meeting were asked to share what they were learning from calls, texts and emails from local residents.

Police violence against Black youth is a constant complaint. But worries about crime are on the rise too, and some residents want more police walking beats, not just responding to calls. Good-paying jobs are hard to find. Speed bumps are not doing enough to slow traffic in residential neighborhoods. The schools are not what they used to be.

And there is lots of this: “Most people don’t even want to go vote,” Shanice Jones told the room. She said people tell her over and over they are tired of promises made but not kept. “Then they talk about on the news how it was less voter turnout. Uh, duh. Why? Because you all ain’t doing what you said you were going to do.”

Another BLOC organizer, 21-year-old Devonta Johnson, echoed that bleak assessment.

“People don’t want to answer their doors,” he told us. “They don’t feel like a change is going to happen.”

The mood a year from now will affect the president’s reelection odds more than the present mood. But would the president have a Black turnout problem if the election were today?

“Yes, he would,” Johnson told us. “He would have a big problem.”

A couple of hours with the BLOC canvassers backed up that assertion, as did interviews in both Milwaukee’s inner city and along its suburban edge.

When organizer Dez Woods tried to turn a doorway conversation to next year’s election calendar, she was interrupted.

“I don’t talk about the elections,” said the woman inside. “They can’t do nothing. So there ain’t no use to me trying to do.”

Woods is trained to keep trying.

“So, are you not a voter?” she asked.

“Yeah, I vote,” the woman answered. “But it is when I want to, and, right now, I don’t want to.