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The crisis has passed and the outrage has subsided. The misinformation regarding the Voting Rights Act of 1965 has been corrected and black Americans are satisfied with the assurances that they will retain the right to vote in the 21st century.
Black Americans have proven once again that they are willing
to act boldly and decisively to protect "their house" from an immediate,
external threat, real or imagined. However, black Americans have yet to demonstrate
that they are willing to do what is necessary to protect "their house"
from the enduring structural weaknesses that are causing their house to collapse
around them. The expiration of some provisions or even the entire Voting Rights
Act in 2007 is of little consequence. What is infinitely more important to black
America is what will or will not happen on the next Election Day.
For four hundred years, black Americans have proven themselves to be a courageous, resilient, resolute, and honorable people. More so than any other ethnic group, there is little in the long history of black America for which black Americans need be ashamed. However, in the twenty-first century, there is one circumstance that should be a source of embarrassment or shame for all black Americans. It is the voting record of black Americans during the first four decades of the Equal Opportunity era.
Beyond the occasional organized effort to elect or defeat a specific candidate, black voter turnout is chronically low. America is currently a nation where about a third of its eligible citizens do not even bother to register to vote. Of those who are registered, less than half may vote in any given election. And, even so, black Americans are at the low end of these disappointing statistics. This is appalling and disheartening. It can be argued that voting in every possible election ought to be a litmus test for the right to call oneself a knowledgeable, dutiful, and worthy black American.
There are three major reasons why black Americans should consider voting as not only a cherished right but also as a sacred duty.
A Price To Be Paid
The first reason is exemplified by the maxim “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” Black America has won its struggle for civil rights and there are no obvious reasons for black Americans to believe there will ever be any wholesale abrogation of these rights. Given the current laws and a track record of conscientious and equitable enforcement of these laws, there would seem to be little danger of black America being forced back into the Jim Crow era from which it emerged in the 1960’s. Yet, nothing in life is guaranteed.
During the twentieth century, no less than ten million people were killed in conflicts throughout the world simply because they did not share the same race, religion, or ethnicity of those who were in power. This does not include the millions who were killed because they did not share the same race, religion, or ethnicity of those who were attempting to gain power.
In America, voting is the single best way for all Americans, and especially black Americans, to protect the rights they have won. In an autocracy, it is the gun and the bullet – the force of arms – that sustains unlimited government power. In representative democracies like America, it is the vote that legitimizes and directs those who govern, thereby limiting the power of government. Indeed, it is the power, or the lack of power, of the vote that defines various forms of government. Voting is the “vigilance,” the price that all Americans must pay at every possible opportunity to maintain our system of government. This is especially true for black Americans. Voting is the best way, if not the only way, to ensure that the victories won by black America will endure.
A Lesson To Be Learned (Why Blacks Do Not Vote)
The second reason why all black Americans should vote in every possible election is that every single vote cast by a black American is important because every single vote has value. This is contrary to what many black Americans have been brainwashed into believing – that their one vote does not matter.
It is important to note that “voting” is not necessarily the same as “getting involved in the political process” or even “being an informed voter.” “Voting” is going to the polls on Election Day, marking a ballot, and placing it in the ballot box. In a perfect world, more black Americans would be involved in the political process, more black Americans would study the issues and the candidates, and more black Americans would make informed, prudent choices when they vote. However, in the imperfect world in which we live, if black Americans do none of these things, they should still vote.
If none of the candidates are thought to be worthy of being elected, black Americans should choose the least objectionable candidate and vote for that candidate. If black Americans choose to vote for a Democratic Party candidate because they always have, they should vote for that candidate. If they choose to vote for a Republican Party candidate because they agree with his or her platform, they should vote for that candidate. If black Americans choose to vote for third party or fourth party candidates, or even write-in their own names, they should do so. When it comes to voting, it does matter if black Americans are informed, somewhat informed, or uninformed. But there is one thing that matters more. When it comes to voting, black Americans should “just vote.”
Needless to say, for the elitists who believe that only “qualified” segments of the population should be responsible for the election of our political leaders, the “just vote” approach will seem extreme and even dangerous to the electoral process. It is not. For others, the “just vote” approach will be seen as unwise or unhealthy for the electoral process. It is not.
Those who would argue that the “just vote” approach is dangerous or unhealthy are, more likely than not, the serious voters, those who vote in every possible election. They may be informed, knowledgeable voters or they may simply be partisans of a particular political party or specific issues. In any case, the bottom line is that a small percentage of voters are responsible for the election of most American politicians and these voters have no incentive or desire to share their power with those who, in their opinion, are uninformed or uninitiated. The only new voters they trust are ones they can count on to support their political party or their partisan agenda.
There is only one argument that can be made against the “just vote” approach. It is that the “most qualified” candidate could lose to a lesser-qualified candidate. But who, except for a majority of voters, is to say which candidate is the most qualified candidate. Indeed, after almost every election held in America today, between forty-five and forty-nine percent of voters are convinced that the “least qualified” candidate won. And most of these voters are amazed at the stupidity of the fifty-one to fifty-five percent of voters who selected the “wrong man” or the “wrong woman” for that office.
There are arguments to be made for black Americans adopting the “just vote” approach to voting. The first is that it will make candidates more accountable for what they should be doing in order to get elected. Candidates would be forced to expand their platforms and campaigns to address the concerns of a broader segment of the population. And they would have to do a better job of communicating with and convincing more voters that they deserve to be elected. In the end, it would be more difficult for a politician to win an election by simply catering to his or her core support base.
Black Americans must understand that politics in America is driven by the same market forces – supply and demand – that drive most systems in a capitalistic society. For example, if it were discovered that twenty-five to thirty year-old black women had ten billion dollars more disposal income than previously known, American businesses would immediately come up with additional products and services to try to sell to twenty-five to thirty year-old black women. Likewise, if two or three million additional black Americans suddenly began to vote in every possible election, politicians would quickly come up with “products and services” directed toward these black Americans.
Black Americans must also understand that there is no such thing as a wrong vote and the only wasted vote is a vote that is not cast. A vote that is not cast does not matter. Politicians, therefore, can not afford to waste their time, energy, or resources on non-voters. Clearly, it is in their best interest to concentrate their efforts on voters because voters are twice as important as non-voters are. Not only can a voter penalize a candidate by not giving the candidate his or her vote, the voter also penalizes the candidate by giving his or her vote to the candidate’s opponent. For this reason, many candidates depend on a low voter turnout and even include it as part of their election strategy.
Even with black Americans comprising less than fifteen percent of the total population of the United States, there would be an immediate response from politicians if just sixty percent of all eligible black Americans suddenly started voting. If seventy or eighty percent started voting in every election, politicians would be lining up in black communities to ask what they can do to earn the black vote. But until black Americans begin to vote in larger numbers, or until there is more diversity in the black vote, there is little or no incentive for Democrats or Republicans to change the way they regard the black vote. Democrats know that, regardless of what they do or fail to do, they will receive between eighty and ninety percent of the black vote. And Republicans know they simply have to compensate for this consistently underrepresented block of black voters by addressing the needs and concerns of other, non-black blocks of voters.
A Debt To Be Paid
The third reason why black Americans should regard voting as both a cherished right and a sacred duty is the long and agonizing struggle that was required for black Americans to obtain the right to vote.
Thousands of dedicated and determined black and white Americans made incredible sacrifices in order to win and secure this fundamental right of democracy for black America. And thousands of brave men, women, and children died in the struggle. A cloud of shame will hang over black America as long as it allows the sacrifices that were made and especially the lives that were lost to have been in vain. If there was ever a day that a black American had a reason for regrets or to be ashamed, it was the last Election Day that he or she did not vote.
Black Americans can accomplish three very important
objectives by simply voting in every possible election. They can preserve the
rights that black America has already obtained. They can ensure that black America
gets its fair share of benefits and services that are made available to the
American public. And they can show their appreciation and respect to those who
fought and died so that black Americans could freely exercise their right to
vote. Considering the amount of time and effort involved – as little as
one or two hours once or twice a year – voting is a small price to pay
for such important dividends.
Black Americans are encouraged to get involved in the political process or become better informed, more knowledgeable voters. But the minimum that black Americans must do is to vote in every possible election.
It bears repeating. If there was ever a day that a black American had a reason for regrets or to be ashamed, it was the last Election Day that he or she did not vote.
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