JUST SAYIN’-We have all been stirred by the events in Ferguson, Missouri. Yet, what we are witnessing there is simply a microcosm of what transpires across this nation every day.
Complaints against how the police departments interact with residents, how the prosecutor’s office handles criminal investigations and trials, how many electeds do not truly represent their constituencies—these all represent an ongoing crisis that truly affects all of us.
We are asking ourselves what can be done to rectify, ameliorate, mitigate these conditions? How can we reverse the damage that has already been done? How can we address the seeming indifference and insensitivity that is constantly being displayed? What about the stereotyping and the ease with which so many jump the gun?
There are a myriad of possibilities that have been, are being, and will continue to be considered, but I would like to address just one: THE FRANCHISE. We must look to it as a valid and powerful method to produce the changes we demand, require, desire, want, and need.
Using Ferguson only as an example … the community is 67% Black and poor while the other 33% is largely white and living the upper-class life. Yet it is that minority that controls the interests of those who clearly outnumber them.
How is this possible you may ask with incredulity? Easy to answer (I humbly reply): When then-Senator Barack Obama was running for President, 75% of Ferguson’s Blacks came out to vote. At the last mid-term, the number dropped to 56% but in the latest local races, only 6% exercised their franchise!
Ferguson, as a result, has no Black Education Board members, one Black alderman, a white County Prosecutor who has been re-elected over and over (by mostly white voters) though his prosecutions seem to be weighted always on the side of the police (whose reputation is certainly under question) and are heavy-handed and often perceived as being unfair, unjust, biased, and even xenophobic (if I may be so bold) toward the Black population over which his office presides.
There is no excuse for this! Too many in the Black community have forgotten or never really knew or do not understand the history behind all those who struggled (some beaten or tortured; some died) on behalf of the dispossessed.
Claiming that their Black vote doesn’t count, will make no difference, or will have no bearing on the aftermath of an election is counterintuitive at best. Not voting, in fact, provides those (the white minority), whose needs often do no match those of the majority (the more desultory Black voters), almost absolute power to determine election results.
Thus, the minority white voters are virtually responsible for the enactment or rejection of local laws and measures and are similarly able to elect police chiefs, country prosecutors, judges, and state representatives.
That minority, whose goals are frequently all too parochial and self-serving, can determine for everyone (white or Black) just whose needs will get the quickest response--often at the peril of the more pressing petitions of their “neighbors.”
Unfortunately, young people across all strata of society are often equally guilty of not taking seriously their opportunity to vote. Sadly, they have already been jaded with regard to what the vote can do.
Older people, many of whom still live in the ‘50s in their minds, tend to vote in greater numbers but in a more regressive way. It should be obvious that we must turn perceptions around and get all eligible persons to vote regardless of their political propensities if we ever want genuine representation of, by, and for the people.
Yes, it is a fact that we have all backed candidates who claimed to promote one set of ideals, only to betray us by changing their paths once elected (I can think of countless instances). We, of course, are disappointed, chagrinned, frustrated but, nevertheless, have the opportunity to vote them out of office (or in some cases, recall them before their terms run out). Our lawmakers must be held accountable, not only to their immediate constituencies but to the greater community as well.
Yes, we are faced with an imperfect system but exercising our franchise consistently and in ever- greater numbers can and will effectuate the kinds of changes we want to see.
When LA’s Mayor Bradley ran for governor, he lost by less than one hundred thousand votes out of almost 8 million cast. I remember thinking then that if the Black community had turned out in massive numbers (instead of taking the vote for granted), the result would have undoubtedly been different (taking any other controversial issues out of the equation).
Even President Kennedy won only by about 100,000 votes nationwide—equal to about one vote per precinct. Similarly, Al Gore (who did win the popular vote) lost his Presidential race when sufficient voters readily relinquished their right to exercise their franchise—votes that could have resulted in a substantively different outcome.
The flawed 2000 election gave President George W. Bush the win and, subsequently, many options, some of which are certainly being debated to this day. Soon after he took office, the decision was made to engage in a war in Afghanistan and later in Iraq (under dubious circumstances)—military engagements which we are still fighting and refighting.
When people vote for President, they generally don’t consider the long-term consequences. A winner will hold that high office between 4 and 8 years, but U. S. Supreme Court Justices are appointed for life—well past the appointing president’s term. Thus, years later a justice can vote on issues contrary to what the general populace supports. It should be obvious, then, that when we vote for President, we are also voting for Supreme Court Justices whose decisions will affect us for decades thereafter.
I would imagine that most of you who read this article are conscientious voters. Perhaps it is also our job to impress upon others the necessity of registering to vote and then voting. We must do serious voter outreach to our under-voting communities. And, by the way, all of us must also recognize the importance of voting the “down ballot” where local issues and office-holders are determined. Certainly, those local races have more immediate and long-term repercussions for the affected constituencies than some choices found on the up-ballot.
Ferguson and similar communities can take the bull by the horns and transform tragedy and disaster into triumph and success. Communities do not have to continue to suffer so long as some of their own run for office and commit to introducing laws and regulations that require remediation of the people’s long-standing grievances. Most of all, change can and will be made when the citizens come out to vote each and every time—no exceptions (and that includes all of us)!
We do have a voice that cannot be squelched but can and must be heard. Every election day has consequences and only the voters can determine the results.
(Rosemary Jenkins is a Democratic activist and chair of the Northeast Valley Green Alliance. Jenkins has written Leticia in Her Wedding Dress and Other Poems, and Vignettes for Understanding Literary and Related Concepts. She also writes for CityWatch.)
Vol 12 Issue 69
Pub: Aug 26, 2014