By Barney Blakeney
Next week voters will go to the polls to elect candidates to a variety of public offices in many different communities. But in this climate of extreme political consequence, I read something the other day that makes me shudder. My man Hicks, a columnist for the daily paper, wrote about the depressingly low number of citizens who bother to vote in elections.
There was a time I thought it was just Black folks who were apathetic about voting. It didn’t take me long to realize that not just Black folks, but most folks, are apathetic about voting! Given the history of voting, arbitrarily relinquishing one’s right to vote is shameful. A lot of folks made some serious sacrifices so we can vote.
I don’t know – maybe because I’m Black, I wanna think that Black folks’ were exclusive in their sacrifices to get the vote. I’m old enough to have lived through the history that was Jim Crow segregation in America. I lived through the intense emotion, fear and anger that were embodied by atrocities such as the 1964 murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, three young men killed while trying to register Black voters in Mississippi.
But I also know the history of voting which tells us that at one time only certain white people could vote. The right to vote never has been, and still ain’t universal. Although I know that history, still I was flabbergasted reading that in the last three local elections an average of about 20 percent of registered voters cast ballots in local elections.
I’ve written tons of stories about voting in North Charleston. Each time I’m floored by the fact that there are so few voters who bother to vote. In a city with some 45,000 registered voters, only about 5,000 regularly cast ballots. In some single member districts only 200-300 voters cast ballots. I hear a lot of criticism about North Charleston’s administration, but Black folks don’t go to the polls to vote Mayor Keith Summey out of office.
I’m reminded of something I saw recently on Facebook. Somebody posted an uncomplimentary picture of Summey. A lot of people took pot shots at the guy, ridiculing him because of the picture. I thought it was ridiculous to shoot the guy down. Because more people want to take pot shots at Summey on Facebook than educate each other about the importance of voting, Summey remains one of the most influential men in our community.
Many of those who cried tears of joy and pain at the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States in 2008 did not return to the polls in 2011 to unseat Summey. So five years ago Summey was in place to broker the deal for the purchase and resale of the old Navy Hospital on Rivers Avenue, which now has Charleston County taxpayers on the hook for $33 million. A lot of people made a lot of money on those deals. Who was at the root of that money tree? Follow the money, ya’ll!
I’ve always had a problem with the truckload of organizations that went hell-bent head over heels to register Black folks to vote after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. I think it was essential to get folks registered to vote. The problem I’ve had is there has been relatively few voter education classes conducted. Septima Clark and Esau Jenkins understood back in the 1950s and 1960s the need to educate folks about why they needed to vote. And they weren’t paid to do it! Septima Clark lost her livelihood because of such efforts.
I think Mama Seppy and Mr. Jenkins understood that voting really wasn’t about black or white. I think they realized voting is about green – money green. It’s always been about money. That’s why, in the past, only the landed gentry had the right to vote.
Those folks understood that voting was about controlling resources – financial and otherwise.
Someone once told me if you dig up the names of the people in South Carolina who held public office 200 years ago and compared them to the names of the people who hold public office today; you’ll find that the same families still are in control of the government. The names may have changed, but the lineage has been constant. And Black folks have bought into that game. Now that Black folks also can vote, some of us have created political family dynasties.
It ain’t no fun when the rabbit’s got the gun. So the man with the gun will do everything in his power to make sure the rabbit never gets the gun. And if the rabbit ever gets a gun, the ‘man’ will make dang sure the rabbit never learns how to use it. We’ve got the vote, but don’t know how to use it.
Next week voters in Charleston will go to the polls to elect six councilmembers and a water commissioner. But they also will vote on an affordable housing referendum.
Those who would keep all of us in check are hoping that tricks which pit black against white with misnomers like ‘affordable housing’ have worked. They’re banking those tricks will keep most voters from the polls. Last year I attended a meeting about ‘affordable housing’ held at the Charleston Museum. The place was filled with white folks who realize they can’t afford housing costs either. All those folks need to show up at the polls.
A lot of people will be watching the Nov. 7 elections to gauge voter participation. In this era of widespread political corruption, it will be a good indicator of what to expect in the midterm elections of 2019.
This election will be about whether or not Americans really want to take control of their government.