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Making America Great Is About Local Elections
11/2/2016 1:31:01 PM

By Barney Blakeney 

I read some news stories this past week that should shock us as we approach the November 8 general elections. I think most people acknowledge we have a broken political system, a system that has created the society in which we live. Yes we have to make America great again.

Americans are divided over their choices among presidential candidates, and as a result of that focus, almost no attention has been given the down ballot races. But it is those races and referendum issues which most will affect our daily lives. It matters who is our county treasurer, what form of government our municipalities operate under and who represents us in Columbia.

Political campaigns have been reduced to slogans like ‘Yes We Can’, ‘Stronger Together’ and ‘Make America Great Again’. But we don’t elect slogans. We elect people. People who carry into the offices they’re chosen to hold their ideas and commitments to fulfill an agenda. When I look at what our society looks like, I find it imperative that we choose carefully those we elect to local offices who determine public policy.

Three weeks ago I wagered the City of North Charleston would experience 30 homicides by the end of October. Mercifully I lost that wager, but October 26 the city experienced its 29th homicide. A 15-year-old boy is accused of killing a 17-year-old boy. As voters, we should be trying to figure who best can help us make America great as we perpetuate a public school system that fails black children so badly, more young black men are killed each year by other young black men than ever were lynched by white racists during the Jim Crow era in this country.

I haven’t yet seen Ava DuVernay’s new movie, ‘The 13th’. It explores the connection between slavery and the dynamics of American mass incarceration. The 13th Amendment to the Constitution declared "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, nor any place subject to their jurisdiction." The film opens with an analysis of that amendment then spends over an hour and a half tracing the path from the 13th Amendment to the 2.2 million prisoners in the American justice system. Make America great? As Lauryn Hill asks, “How you gon win when you ain’t right within?”

Then there was the story about South Carolina’s infant mortality rate. It’s been years since I’ve written an infant mortality story. Nothing’s changed. Years ago infant mortality among black babies in South Carolina was as high as those in some undeveloped countries. According to the news report the rate for black babies is about 11 per 1,000 live births. The rate for white babies is about five per 1,000 live births. The national average in 2014 was six infant deaths per 1,000 live births. What great country is this where the difference between the infant mortality rates for white babies and black babies increases 100 percent?

Another news story titled ‘Land of opportunity or close to slavery’ indicated to me how great America is. A few years ago I was on a CARTA bus and spoke with a young woman who had come to town from some country in Eastern Europe. She was living in my North Central neighborhood and was working as a maid at one of the hotels downtown. We had a pleasant conversation. But I went away thinking how the faces in the hospitality industry are changing. The news story I read presented a much darker view.

Thousands of foreign nationals are coming to South Carolina to work in our local communities. They are lured by all the images of America’s greatness, but many of them find exploitation and disillusion.

Well, at least they don’t come here as my forbearers did, in the cargo holds of ships. And they don’t get the legally sanctioned shackles, brutality and the dehumanizing indignation of forced servitude. But according to the news article, many of those foreign nationals suffer some of the same conditions of deprivation and exploitation as slaves 150 years ago and their children today. According to the report, South Carolina is 10th in the nation in importing foreign students.

What got me about that story was that those people being exploited in South Carolina are suffering at the hands of the same sons of stitches that enslaved Africans – business owners out to make a buck by any means necessary. The exploiters are Rotary Club members, our church brothers and sisters, next door neighbors, our friends and associates. They are Americans who perpetuate the social systems and set policies in our communities. They are the thieves, rapists and murders who “made America great” in the first place. What’s great about a country where good, honest people are decried and manipulative, deceitful, power mad ones get to lead?

I once read somewhere a characterization of leadership in South Carolina. The writer said if one looks back through the history books they’ll find the same names among the leaders of the past as those who are leaders today. In other words, the same people who were in charge in the past still are in charge today. So when we talk about making America great again, we must realize they’re not talking about greatness, they’re talking about power. They’re arguing over which of them will continue in power.

As American voters we must remember that the circle of power in America is a closed circle, an exclusive circle. And no matter what choice we make among that group, the reins of power will remain within that circle.

Our best chance to make America great rests in the choices we make among the leaders closest to us.

I’ll go to the polls in the next few days. My challenge will be casting my ballots for candidates I think will serve my best interests at the local levels. That’s a hard job when we get so little information about those candidates.

Do I want to spend another half cent for roads when I can’t catch a bus from home to work? Will Charleston County School District close my kid’s school next year? What are municipal, county and state officials going to do to help me survive the next flood? I need people in those offices who will help us become stronger together and make America great.

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