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Voters Of Color On Settling For Biden

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

There's a difference between having some idea how you might vote come November and being remotely excited about it. We're going to hear now from three voters who are considering or are committed to backing Joe Biden. They are different ages in different parts of the country, all voters of color. Let me let you meet them and hear them answer this question. On a scale of one to 10, how enthusiastic are you about Biden? First, Pastor Carl Day.

CARL DAY: OK. I'm 35, Philadelphia, African American male. And honestly speaking, I'm leaning a bit more undecided at this point. So I'm probably at about two or three as far as...

KELLY: Two or three.

DAY: ...Enthusiastic - yeah, as far as being enthusiastic about voting for Biden.

KELLY: You'll hear a similar level of excitement - or lack thereof - from Parul Kumar.

PARUL KUMAR: I'm 20 years old. I'm a student at the University of Chicago. I am Indian. I'm a woman. And I would agree with being a little bit more undecided as opposed to fully backing Biden. And so I'm on the lower end of the spectrum, so about, you know, one, two, a three on a good day.

KELLY: Wow. OK. And Adrienne Smith Walker, how about you?

ADRIENNE SMITH WALKER: Hi. So I'm a Gen X Black woman in her 40s. We're talking about enthusiasm. I'm probably at a zero. But, you know, I'm a realist, so I will definitely be voting for Biden.

KELLY: Definitely be voting for Biden but a zero on the enthusiasm scale - which prompted me to ask Adrienne Smith Walker, has it crossed your mind just to sit this election out?

SMITH WALKER: No, it never has. I mean, I've been voting for the Democratic Party since the '90s. And I also - can I just add that I think that whoever is advising Biden, they're leading him astray. I mean, just look at how he's handling what's going on right now in the streets of - you know, all this racial injustice that's going on. And he's handling it in a way, I feel, to appease the nervous moderates. And he's not really listening to his base or the activists on the ground.

KELLY: You would like to see him take a more assertive stance in support of protesters and Black Lives Matter?

SMITH WALKER: Yes.

KELLY: I'm curious whether another event of recent weeks is influencing any of your thinking. And I'll throw this out there, and whoever wants to jump on it just say your name and jump. Does Biden's decision to pick a woman of color and make Kamala Harris his running mate - does that play into your thinking? Does that influence your enthusiasm or your commitment to this ticket in any way?

KUMAR: This is Parul. I think that with everything that's going on, I don't think that representational politics is enough, meaning when you look at Kamala Harris' specific history as a prosecutor, it feels very surface level.

KELLY: Pastor Day, do you want to jump in there?

DAY: Yes. I will say this. As a Black man in America who is very, very entrenched with the Black community obviously, especially here in Philadelphia, I'll say that, you know, it definitely looks like pandering as usual. You know, let's do the polar opposite of Donald Trump but still let's pander to the Black community. I mean, we saw that a lot with Hillary Clinton when she was campaigning, you know, popping up in barbershops and local church - Black churches talking about hot sauce. And Kamala Harris was doing a lot of the same pandering herself as she was trying to win the presidency candidate position. And, you know, taking her on after she pretty much implied that Biden was a racist - you know, he attacked her for over-criminalizing Black people. To me, this entire campaign literally just reeks, you know, how can we best, you know, rock the Black vote to sleep?

KELLY: We moved on to talk about other issues on their minds - the environment, health care, the economy. As it became clear how deeply unenthusiastic both Parul Kumar and Carl Day are about the Biden-Harris ticket, Adrienne Smith Walker jumped in with questions of her own.

SMITH WALKER: Can I just ask? Are we saying we're not going to vote, though, for Biden? Is that what you two are saying?

KUMAR: Ultimately, I'm still on the fence about whether or not I will be voting for Biden. I'm actually quite concerned about the rhetoric of settling and, like, the question of whether people are going to vote for Biden yes or no as opposed to demanding more from him.

KELLY: You're hitting on something interesting, which is there's so much complexity to this. I would love to hear an answer to the question that Adrienne put to you, Carl. Are you planning to vote? Will you vote Biden?

DAY: I will certainly be in prayer. I will say I do plan to vote. I'm not sure where - who I'm voting for. I'm being honest.

SMITH WALKER: Can I follow up with that, too? So when you're saying you don't know who you're going to vote for, is the choice between Trump and Biden?

DAY: Well, I mean, there's a third candidate there too, you know? Honestly, you know, me - I would feel better not voting if I really felt in my deepest conviction that I just can't say yes to Biden and Harris. You know, Trump, honestly speaking, you know, again, shows me too much of, you know, him not really caring for anybody. But again, my option would pretty much come down to, do I choose them or do I not choose at all this time around and just continuously keep being that beacon of light in my community and holding my local politicians accountable and working with them and going to work with them in my city and others?

KELLY: It's fascinating. And I would love just a short closing thought from each of you because one common thread that I hear emerging - please correct me if I'm wrong, but - is this feeling that no matter what happens, no matter what you do, no matter what the outcome on November 3, you don't feel like it's going to change enough? Adrienne Smith Walker.

SMITH WALKER: I think it's crucial for us to vote, especially if we're in a battleground state - Pennsylvania - that we vote for Biden. And I honestly believe that if Trump wins, our democracy will fail. Fascism will be the way of life. And you can just take what's happening right now with COVID-19. I am not enthusiastic about Biden. I get it. I understand all his flaws. But I think right now it's crucial that we remove the man in the White House right now.

KELLY: Pastor Day.

DAY: I would say I've heard that same thing. I heard that through Bush. You know, after Sept. 11, we had to get him out of here. You know, this guy's no good. And, you know, Kerry lost. We survived. I was told change was going to come through the Obama administration first four years. You know, and I voted Obama, too. I've been voting Democrat too the majority my life. So here I am, and I've been hearing how important this day is for the last four years - after four years, after four years. So where I'm at, you know, I hear that. And again, I totally don't respect the guy who's currently in office. But at the same time, I can't feel 100% or even 30% saying that these people are going to actually invoke any kind of change to the people who are around me and the people I serve the most right now.

KELLY: And Parul Kumar, you get the last word.

KUMAR: Well, I think that the problems that we're dealing with now aren't just a result of Trump, meaning these are problems that have been here for a while no matter who is president. So I don't have any hope for Joe Biden to make lives better for people. Kind of the biggest takeaway from this election is that maybe we shouldn't put this much hope into politicians who've failed people over and over again. And maybe we should go to the streets. Maybe we should open our wallets. And maybe we should do the work to help people directly because that's kind of been the thing that's been getting people through. And it's never been politicians. It's been the people who've been doing the work - primarily, you know, Black, queer activists - Black, young, queer activists.

KELLY: So much food for thought there - thank you very much to all three of you.

SMITH WALKER: Thank you.

KUMAR: Thank you.

DAY: Thank you, ladies.

KELLY: That is Parul Kumar in Chicago, Adrienne Smith Walker in Atlanta and Pastor Carl Day talking with us from Philadelphia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.