Cornel West campaign still seeking traction

Mainstream media continues to shun activist’s campaign

By Ray Richardson

Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES — Renowned social justice activist Cornel West does not have a local or national headquarters to help manage his campaign for president of the United States.

Mainstream television networks and publications continue to ignore West since he announced his candidacy on June 5, 2023.

And the country’s two major political parties refuse to include him in debates with President Joe Biden and Republican challenger Donald Trump. 

The obstacles facing West in his bid to become America’s next president seem overwhelming, yet no one inside West’s inner circle is urging him to drop out of the race.

“I’m faithful to the cause,” West told The Wave. “This is beyond whether or not we have the money to do things. This election is just one moment inside a larger movement.”

West, 71, is running as an independent under the newly created Justice For All Party. Regardless of the outcome of the Nov. 5 election, West said he intends to use his presidential campaign to continue advocating for social justice and civil rights for African Americans.

In the meantime, West and his mostly volunteer campaign staff is working hard to increase the number of states where he has qualified to be on the November ballot. Each state requires candidates to have a minimum number of signed petitions to get on the ballot.

“We think we’ll be on the ballots of at least 20 states in the next few weeks,” said Melina Abdullah, West’s vice presidential running mate and president of Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles. “It’s been a great honor to work with Dr. West and see how a lot of people around the country want more options.”

Edwin DeJesus, a spokesperson for West’s campaign, said West has met petition deadlines in Oregon, Alaska, Colorado, Vermont, South Carolina, Utah, Georgia, Michigan, Washington state, Washington, D.C. and Iowa.

DeJesus said West is expecting certification this week from several battleground states, including Pennsylvania, Arizona and Virginia.

The preliminary number of states that will display West’s name on ballots has been encouraging to the popular activist and former Ivy League college professor.

West’s popularity has led to concerns among Biden supporters that Biden could lose votes in the Black community in his re-election bid. Rusty Hicks, chairperson of the California Democratic Party, was unavailable for comment on West’s campaign.

Biden’s campaign also is suffering from the aftermath of June 27 presidential debate. Actor George Clooney, who co-hosted a fundraise in downtown Los Angeles June 15 that raised $28 million for the Biden campaign, called for the president to withdraw from the presidential race in an essay in the New York Times July 10.

“I love Joe Biden,” Clooney wrote. “As a senator. As a vice president and as president. I consider him a friend, and I believe in him. Believe in his character. Believe in his morals. In the last four years, he’s won many of the battles he’s faced.

“But the one battle he cannot win is the fight against time. None of us can. It’s devastating to say it, but the Joe Biden I was with three weeks ago at the fund-raiser was not the Joe … Biden of 2010. He wasn’t even the Joe Biden of 2020. He was the same man we all witnessed at the debate.”

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program later that morning, and suggested that Biden — despite his insistence about remaining in the race — could still reconsider.

“It’s up to the president to decide if he’s going to run,” she said. “We’re all encouraging him to make that decision because time is running short.”

Pelosi declined to explicitly endorse Biden, but called on other members of Congress to “hold off” on making public statements about the incumbent.

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass issued a statement July 10 reiterating her support of the president.

“I was on a call with the president and mayors from across the country last night,” Bass wrote on X. “I’m supporting our nominee, President Joe Biden.”

Radio personality Tavis Smiley, founder of KBLA Talk 1580, a Black-owned radio station in Los Angeles, also weighed in on the damage done at the June 27 debate. 

“The recent televised debate between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump was a grim reminder of what some consider a binary choice in this election,” Smiley said. “There are other voices that need to be heard. Watching the debate, I kept thinking how different the conversation might have been if Dr. West was on stage that night.”

The subject of debates has been an ongoing issue for West and his campaign. Televised debates have become a valuable and sometimes make-or-break marketing tool for candidates to attract voters.

West’s inability to share a platform with Biden and Trump has been discouraging to the West campaign, but the snub is not surprising. West said his staff has been told on several occasions that his polling numbers and mainstream visibility aren’t high enough to merit an invitation.

“It goes with the territory,” West said of the lack of debate invitations. “When you’re speaking the truth, you won’t get the same treatment. You’re called a threat to the status quo.

“It’s been refreshing,” West said. “I’m trying to bring the same compassion to working people that Dr. {Martin Luther] King had. We’re trying to keep his memory alive by talking about the things the other candidates don’t want to talk about — poverty, homelessness, equal opportunities, the genocide in the Gaza Strip…”

West can run as a write-in candidate in states where he fails to meet ballot requirements.

California requires independent presidential candidates to have 219,403 petition signatures by Aug. 9. That’s roughly 1% of the state’s registered voters. As of July 10, DeJesus said West needs 75,000 more signatures to qualify for a spot on the California ballot.

West, who lives in New York City, has a strong following in California, particularly in Los Angeles, where he is regularly in demand for appearances and speaking engagements. Local supporters are confident West will get the remaining signatures he needs in California.

West and his staff have made successful use of social media platforms, public appearances and some media exposure to promote his message and increase awareness.

Biden is trailing Trump in several polls by as much as 6%, an indication to many observers that Black voters could be the deciding factor in November.

“No one owns Black voters,” Smiley said. “We are not a commodity. There should be a robust competition for Black votes. The notion of a ‘spoiler’ candidate rubs me raw. Ever notice how Republicans and Democrats never call each other spoilers?”

Ray Richardson is a contributing writer for The Wave. He can be reached at rayrich55@gmail.com.

Photo by Lorenzo Gomez

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