By Kofi Taharka
National Chairman National Black United Front (NBUF)
As the November 2012 national elections approach the African in America communities will begin to be bombarded with chastisement about voting “People Died For Your Right To Vote” will be a common rallying cry of politicians flooding the airways. “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain”, “We need people in inside positions to make real change” will also be some of the rational pushed forward in the upcoming months. Recently in Houston, candidates contended for City Council seats in a run-off election, the total voter turnout was reported at 6% of registered voters. In the general election preceding the run-off the total voter turnout was reported at 8% of Houston’s registered voters. I am sure this scenario has been repeated across the country.
A quick browse through seminal events/periods of African in America involvement in electoral politics can be instructive in understanding our outlook on voting. In the 1700’s some Blacks were able to vote in certain parts of the country. After the Emancipation Proclamation in 1865, the period known as Reconstruction (1865-1877) saw an explosion of Black voters and Black elected officials. This period ended in a reign of terror and governments being taken over by force by southern whites. After reconstruction a hundred years of oppression known as “Jim Crow” followed which all but wiped out Black participation in electoral politics. In the 1960’s the civil rights movement waged a massive push for voting rights. The effort culminated with the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Over the next forty plus years Africans in America have voted in record numbers for Black mayors in major urban cities and turned out at 92.9% of registered voters according to the U.S. census for the election of President Barack Obama in the 2008 election. In the same election other racial groups voted in the following percentages White 90%, Asian 86.1%, Hispanic 84% of registered voters. So is it really true to say that Black people don’t vote, or wouldn’t be more accurate to say people in America don’t vote. In analyzing these statistics it is important to consider several factors, increased turnout in presidential elections in general and Black turnout for Obama. Also, in racial designation of voting age populations we must consider the citizenship qualifications of the population. It is certainly true that people have died and suffered surrounding the right to vote. It has be an often times violent and bloody experience. The main point is if African/Black people are any more or less apathetic than other groups when it comes to voting? A look at the statistics from one presidential election suggests that Black people are no less apathetic than other groups. However, a more comprehensive study of voting patterns should be done to come to a conclusion on the topic. To the extent that it is true that Black people don’t vote please see my point of view on why.
TOP REASONS African/Black People Don’t Vote
1. Lack of organization in the African/Black community. No broad based agreed upon agenda for the African/Black community. No major fundraising apparatus. No organized mechanism for accountability of politicians and ability to reward or punish them.
2. Politicians’ inability to deliver substantive resources and services to Black communities.
3. Big and organized money influence on politicians and the political discussion. Who funds African/Black politicians?
4. Little to no education of the political process. What is the difference between a school board member and congress person? How do local, national and international governments work and interrelate?
5. Bought off and sold out so-called leaders who go along to get along and refuse to speak truth to power. Plantation Politics.
6. Voter suppression laws, rules and policies designed to minimize voter participation.
7. Mass incarceration which takes away large segments of the Black population’s right to vote.
8. The people’s awareness of the false choice. “The Lesser of Two Evils” Democratic versus Republican, Right versus Left arguments. People are increasingly disgruntled with choices from the two major parties as the only way to gain representation. See Occupy Movement. In different pockets across the country there are exceptions to these points. However, across the board I see these as common stabling blocks throughout our communities.
In his book “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” Dr. King spoke about politics and politicians “The majority of Negro political leaders do not ascend to prominence on the shoulders of mass support…..most are selected by white leadership, elevated to position, supplied with resources and inevitably subject to white control. The mass of Negroes nurtures a healthy suspicion toward these manufactured leaders…. Hence very few Negro political leaders are impressive or illustrious to their constituents…. This relationship in turn hampers the Negro leader in bargaining in genuine strength and independent firmness with white party leaders….they deal with him as a powerless subordinate. He is accorded a measure of dignity and personal respect but not political power.”
We should analyze these statements carefully to see to what extent is this still true today forty four years after his assassination. As a solution, to those who will come to the community calling for votes and see value in participation in the electoral process should address the aforementioned issues. In addition, don’t talk down to the people always talk up to the people they are who you are suppose to work for. Perhaps, we have placed far too much emphasis on electoral politics as a panacea for all of our problems. The key is being organized, from this will come power in all forms.
(Kofi Taharka is the National Chairman of National Black United Front (NBUF) and his based in Houston, Texas)