What my father meant was that no matter how high you ascend, do not lose memory of from whence you came. His lesson to me is timely for African-Americans today.
In 2000, the presidential election saw the winner lose, and the loser win. Despite Vice President Al Gore receiving more popular votes than the incumbent, George Bush, the United States Supreme Court ruled on Dec. 12, 2000 that there is “no individually protected right to vote in the United States Constitution, and therefore, Florida state officials (Katherine Harris) had full authority to determine the presidential outcome. Harris just happened to be a campaign worker for George W. Bush and was appointed to the position of Florida Secretary of State by the candidate’s brother, Gov. Jeb Bush.
The ruling was devastating to electoral politics. If the stolen election of 2000 was bad enough, the same electoral crime occurred in 2004, only this time with crime tape around the precincts in the state of Ohio. An African-American secretary of state for Ohio, Kenneth Blackwell, cleverly pulled off the historic heist at high noon. Ohio’s offense was utilizing rigged voting machines and limiting voting machines in African-American precincts. Both the Florida and Ohio stolen elections should remind Black people that when the “referees” of a contest—whether in politics or on the playing field—wear just one of the team colors, objectivity is at least compromised, if not lost all together.
A somewhat brighter year occurred in 2006 when the expiring provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were renewed by Congress for 25 years and signed into law by the White House. The Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King, and Fannie Lou Hamer voting rights legislation meant a lot to African-Americans due to its history. After all, Black people received their state right to vote in 1870. However, 95 years passed until the state right to vote was made constitutional by the Voting Rights Act of 1965, allowing all citizens—regardless of color—to exercise their right to vote. The renewal of federal voting rights protections marked a high point for Black people in the Bush administration, although massive demonstrations by Rainbow-PUSH and the NAACP were needed to apply national pressure for the Bush White House.
As Black people were losing lives in unjust and illegal foreign wars; losing jobs and homes in America; and losing faith in America, Barack Hussein Obama appeared out of the political fog to become the first African-American president of the United States. With his election, the tunes of James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” and McFadden and Whitehead’s “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now” became the harmonic scores for this historic election.
Celebratory pride lifted Black people to where we belonged—the mainstream of American politics. Yet, one year and after a legion of legislative initiatives by the Obama administration, Black people are beginning to move from celebration to mobilization around the pain of undelivered political promises. Most recently, apparent failed promise of a public option (or competition for private health insurance policies) in health care reform should remind us that if politicians do no respect our legislative concerns, they should not expect us on election day. While we began the year with electoral elation, we must move to awareness of accountability of people we elect. Democracy percolates upward; and does not trickle downward. In 2010, let’s begin to exercise our civic strength at the local, state, nation and international level.
(Gary L. Flowers is executive director and CEO of the Black Leadership Forum, Inc.)
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