Date: Feature Week of
DOES RACE MATTER?: IF PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES DON’T ADDRESS OUR ISSUES SHOULD BLACKS STAY HOME ELECTION DAY?
If there is no struggle, there is no progress. - Frederick Douglass
"It’s incredibly important that we have an alternative to George Bush," is the chant of black political operatives from coast to coast.
Going into the critical part of the 2004 election campaign, John Kerry holds an impressive lead over George W. Bush with black voters. Polls show 9 out of 10 blacks support Senator Kerry over Bush. While the overwhelming number of African American voters will support Kerry, there’s a real question of how many blacks will vote? Many say the answer depends on how well Kerry can organize, energize and mobilize African Americans.
Many stopped voting because they saw no change for them. Despite the obvious conditions of African Americans, none of our problems get translated into priority public policy projects. For the most part, policies important to the African American community continue to be deferred, by Democrats and Republicans. With conservative policy initiatives being in vogue with both political parties, no candidates are paying attention to the needs, or preferences, of Black citizens.
Black Americans are upset with the Bush administration for double-digit unemployment in their communities, poor schools in the era of the No Child Left Behind initiative and the billions of dollars being spent to fund the war in Iraq, which according to polls, black Americans do not support. Yet, no one questions Kerry about how much he “feels our pain”. Kerry holds his lead over Bush among African Americans because we continue as the most reliable of the Democrats. Year after year, we vote for party candidates, demanding nothing to address our issues and situations in return. Since the 1960s, blacks have adopted a practice of voting for the lesser of “the evils”, losing any movement on issues such as affirmative action, double-digit unemployment, Afrocentric education, crime and unequal punishment, and work and welfare reform. Looking through political eyes we continue to lose sight of our own realities.
Some of today’s black leaders today will have you believe that all is fine within our community. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and a staunch Kerry supporter, recently said: "The candidate is very sensitive to the African American community. He's constantly asking me what else he can do.” If Cummings has Kerry’s ear, shouldn’t he be telling him that he needs to understand how race matters. That the typical black family’s income compared to whites is less (58%) than it was in 1968 (60%), the year of Dr. King's assassination; that white households have an average net worth of more than six times that of black households; that black unemployment rates are more than twice the white rate - a wider gap than in 1972 and that the reason that these statistics are what they are indicates how much we need powerful, forceful, uncompromising leadership willing to flex political muscles to turn those numbers around.
Isn’t it true that more incredibly important than having Kerry as an alternative to George Bush is gaining concessions during this campaign that are satisfying to black voters? At the moment, blacks have no real access to government. Bush has had a closed-door policy on civil rights and black representation. He’s not met with the NAACP, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and just once with the Congressional Black Caucus. But, it’s still not clear what Kerry would talk about with blacks were he in the Oval Office.
Rather than just target Bush, though, it’s time blacks withheld their votes until we get our just due. The whole policy-making structure - elected officials, the media, et al - are allowing public policy that is eroding affirmative action; diluting meager civil rights gains and spending fortunes building new prisons whose occupants will be mostly black. When will black voters realize that the President, the Congress and the general media are sidetracking African Americans’ movement for equal justice and status in America?
For four decades black political activists have been telling blacks: “Vote: and let your vote be heard. It’s time we asked politicians like Congressman Cummings: “How well has our vote been heard? During the time we’ve let our voices be heard, the quality of life indices that prompted Dr. King's Poor People's Campaign are even worse today than when King died. Racial inequalities in unemployment, family income, imprisonment, average wealth, and infant mortality are often worse than when King was marching.
All is not well in America for African Americans. Things may be fine for some of us as individuals; but prosperity, like justice, is indivisible. When our communities suffer, we all suffer; so we all may have to suffer, at home on November 2nd, to show politicians, black and white, just how powerful we are!
© 2000-2004 William Reed - www.BlackPressInternational.com