I know why I am at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference right now—I lost an arm wrestling match to fellow VICE editor Kelly McClure. She's at South By Southwest eating tacos and hanging out with rock stars in the Texas heat, while I'm stuck in the suburbs of DC attending stupifying panel discussions like "Are You Sick and Tired of Being Called a Racist and You Know You’re Not One?" With an agenda like that, it's kind of hard to imagine why any black person would be at CPAC, unless they got the short end of a wager like I did. Surprisingly, there are more than a handful of brown ladies and gents at CPAC. It's not a super significant amount, but the few black faces I've seen and the heavy presence of blacks speaking on the main stage has piqued my interest. So I wandered around the bowels of the Gaylord Convention Center and spoke to some of the black folks at CPAC to understand why they vote Republican and why other black people like myself should do the same.
Jerome McNeil, retired union executive
VICE: Hey, Jerome. So, you're a black Republican?
Nope, I am an Independent.
So why are you at CPAC?
Well, I live in the neighborhood and I wanted to see something different. I thought this would be a good opportunity. One of the things that I tend to want to do for my kids and my grandkids is give them as much information as I can so that they can make an informed decision based on facts and not nonsense.
What could the GOP do to make you a black Republican?
Well, one of the things they could do is be a bit more honest. That would certainly appeal to me. I get taken for granted by the Democrats and the Republicans don't give a damn about me. If the GOP was saying something interesting, I would listen right now. But a lot of the things that the Republican Party says, I don’t particularly agree with. I don’t believe what the Democrats say either, and that’s why I am an independent.
Paul McKinley, running as a Republican for second congressional district, Illinois
Why should blacks come to the Republican party?
First of all, people use the term Democrat as synonymous with black. Democrat doesn’t mean black. Frederick Douglass was a Republican. Did you know that?
I'm from Chicago and I have never voted for a Democrat. I’m 55 years old. There was no need to vote Democrat because they were always going win anyway. It’s a one-party system there. And it makes me wonder if the Democratic Party is supposed to be for black people, why are black folks all messed up in Chicago? If the Democrats are really for us, why are all our people all messed up in the cities that they control?
What are some of the policies that the Republicans have that really resonate with you as a black man?
I believe in self-preservation and I believe in self-determination. The Democratic Party has turned my people into beggars. There are more of my people begging on welfare than ever. At the same time, on the other end, there are more African Americans who have been to college now than in the history of us being on this continent. How could more of us be in college and the exact same time more of us are on welfare. So, the question isn’t, “What have the Republicans done for us?” It’s “Why haven’t the Democrats done anything for us?”
I understand that Democrats don't have the answer, but what is it specifically that made you want to be Republican?
I should be opposite of anything that has done what the Democrats have done to my community. I should not vote for those who are impartial or indifferent to my community. Chicago has the highest murder rate in America right now and there are no Republican leaders in my community. There are no Republicans in the state of Illinois that run anything significant. The governor is a Democrats, the Cook County Commissioner is a Democrat. So, it’s not about why I am a Republican, it’s why I am not a Democrat.
Taweh Beysolow, Jr. from St. Johns University, economics student in his junior year, representing Young Americans for Liberty chapter, where he is treasurer
Sharp afro, dude. What your deal?
I’m a libertarian. I'm socially liberal but fiscally conservative. I’m here to work with conservatives to see where we can move forward to try to accomplish some of the same things we want to get done in the country but also to help reform their identity and policy issues.
Where would you say the direction of conservatism needs to go?
They need to adopt a policy of social tolerance, which means they’re going to need to drop the anti-gay marriage stance. They’re going to need to drop a lot of the perceived bias against minorities. They’re going to need to drop the notion of no abortions in this country, and they’re going to need to start to connect with people by allowing them to be actually free. Although they say that’s what they want to do, I highly doubt it. And they need to continue to push the message of giving people their money back. People who spend the money the best are the people who earn it, not the people in Washington who have the chance to start wars or create government programs that don’t need to be created.
What would it take for you to want to be a Republican?
I would need to see them uphold social justice, even if it means that not everyone likes what everyone else is doing, because that’s what freedom is. Freedom is the ability to do whatever you want as long as you don’t harm anyone else.
There aren’t a lot of black people here. What are your thoughts on that?
It’s the result of very old wounds. It’s a result of them originally being against the Civil Rights—even though those people were actually Democrats first. The reproductive rights thing is also a very touchy issue that conservatives are losing on. They’re also against gay marriage, which is an issue that they’re slowly losing traction on and is now costing them elections, and it will continue to cost them elections.
What do you think about the idea of repealing the Voting Rights Act?
It’s a moot point. That’s almost akin to trying to repeal the Second Amendment. Once laws get passed, unless it’s something really egregious, it’s ridiculous to try to appeal it. Even though I think Obamacare’s wrong, I highly doubt that it will get repealed. Any attempt to repeal the Voting Rights Act, even if they give a good Constitutional argument, is counter-intuitive to what they want to accomplish. It’s a waste of time.
Pastor Derek McCoy, President of the Maryland Family Alliance and Maryland Family Council
Why are you at CPAC?
I just came down here trying to see what’s going on and get the latest updates of what’s happening in the political world.
As a black man, what attracts you to the Republican Party?
Key social issues are very important to me. Family is a fundamental thing for me. With the Democratic Party, it seems as if some of their core issues have been co-opted and they are really not paying attention to their base and constituency. To me, people need to be thinking and doing a critical assessment of where they align to make their vote count.
Do you consider yourself a Republican or an independent?
That’s a good question. For years I have been independent. Many people argue that you’re born Democrat if you are black. But as I got older, I moved to the Republican Party. As I matured, I decided I wanted to be independent because I wanted to make sure my vote was best heard on either side of the isle. But there are many issues right now that I’m more conservative leaning towards that are very important to me.
Would you move back to the Democrats if the more Libertarian, Rand Paul-faction within the conservative movement takes hold and the social issues that are important to you go to the wayside?
Yeah. The Rand Paul side are forgetting some key things. When you are looking at the Libertarian Party versus the Republican Party, I think they’re just a little short sighted on some of those issues. That’s just my perspective when looking at the long-term view. Families are going to be impacted, kids are going to be impacted. Right now the costs of college educations are crippling kids coming out of school. For me you have to look at all of this and see how if affects the family. As people get older and start having families, they start to really think about families.
It seems that if the Republican Party clings to the social issues you are into, they'll have a hard time winning as people are becoming less and less concerned with that stuff.
That wasn’t even a thought about ten years ago. It was innately understood for many millions of Americans across the country that things like marriage were what they were; it wasn't a question. I understand that the younger you are, the broader view you might have. And I’m cool with that. But at the same time, I’m the guy who says, “Let’s just think about this, and sit down and open up dialog.” To make sure you understand what you are saying that you’re open to before we totally throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Kim Lincoln Stewart, mom
Hey Kim, so you are here for CPAC?
Did you know it was going on?
You did? Well, what the hell are you doing at the Gaylord Convention Center if it's not to get Allen West's autograph?
I’m here for the NCAA women’s basketball tournament. But I live here. I’m from the area.
So what did you think when you heard CPAC was happening in your neighborhood?
I thought the choice of where it’s being held in Prince George’s County is pretty interesting.
Why is that?
Because Prince George’s County is heavily minority. It’s probably about 65 to 70 percent minority.
What do you think the Republican Party would need to do to actually attract the minorities in Prince George's County?
They’d have to change their stance on social programs. That’s the main thing. They have ideas that don’t fit with the majority of the blacks. Fiscal conservativism? Yeah I’m a fiscal conservative. But socially you have to have programs, because programs are the lifeblood of the people and without them, it makes it difficult for people to survive—minorities especially.
What do you think when you see a brother and he’s like, “Yo, I’m Republican”? What does it mean for you to see an Allen West out in the world?
I think Allen is way in the right field. He has lost his moral compass. Some people do things for political expedience; they make bad choices just to rise to the top. And to me that’s the type of person he seems to be, because of some of the wacky stuff that he says he couldn’t honestly believe. If he does believe that garbage, there is something wrong with him. He has forgotten from whence he came.
Shout out to big hommie, Michael C. Moynihan, for suggesting I talk to some of the black Republicans at CPAC.
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