By Barney Blakeney
By the time this is published, the primary elections will be over. I usually vote early. For years, Tuesdays have been my most demanding workdays. Nowadays, I vote early every election.
My parents were responsible citizens. I never heard them talk politics much. They were Black folks in the segregated south who lived much of their lives before the Voting Rights Act of 1965. However, the few political conversations I remember my parents having helped shape my political views.
When I turned 18 I knew I was supposed to register to vote and for the military draft. I viewed both acts with reticence – registering for the draft meant a tour in Vietnam, registering to vote meant I had reached another level of responsibility.
I was scared of the draft. Something told me I would die in Vietnam. Voting was less ominous. I had no idea it too had a profound influence on my survival.
I once heard my dad speak positively about Republicans. A self-employed businessman, he said money flows more freely when Republican were in control. My dad, born in 1908, grew up when the Republican Party meant something beneficial to Black people. By the time I heard him speak – during the 1950s and 1960s – politics had flipped the script. When I registered to vote, I thought I automatically became a Democrat.
During the years I spent getting a college education (I chose college over Vietnam) I learned a lot about American politics. I came into maturity in the heat of the Civil Rights Movement. Upon reflection, it was a confusing time for me. My people were average, traditional working folks. I saw them work hard and conduct themselves within the rule of the day. Beyond the relative safety of my family, I saw radical confrontations with those rules of conduct. While I avoided the battlefields of Vietnam, I embraced the Civil Rights struggle.
Former Charleston City Councilman and S.C. State Senator Robert Ford helped me understand much about American politics that my college education didn’t. I fell into the writing job at The Chronicle where Ford was an ad salesman. He took me under his wing, teaching me political perspectives. I was young and eager, I could write and I had a platform. To my good fortune, Ford used that to his advantage.
Let no one tell you otherwise, Robert Ford is a brilliant strategist. Some of our community’s protest profiteers would do well to study Ford’s methods. They would if their agenda really was about empowering the Black community.
One of the things Ford taught me was the importance of voting. American politics is corrupt bullcrap, but you gotta start someplace. Theoretically, I think American politics is a good system, but it’s been co-opted by the ruling class to maintain their power. I seldom voted when I was away at college. Ford convinced me that voting not only was a tool for self-empowerment, it is a responsibility and obligation to all those who sacrificed so much to win us the ability to participate in the process.
So I pretty much vote in every election. But I’ve come to realize that the process is much more involved than voting. As author/activist A. Peter Bailey said in a column I read in the June 6 edition of the Charleston Chronicle, a selection process takes place before the election process. We all love Barack Obama, but in that column Bailey asked how is it a political unknown in 2004 was elected president in 2008. He implied a selection process took place before we got to the election process.
Primary elections are part of that selection/voting process. In recent years I’ve made it a point to vote in primary elections – sometimes I vote in the Republican primary, sometimes I vote in the Democratic primary – it just depends on which party I think my vote can have the most impact.
This time around I went with the Dems. Some Republican friends suggested I vote in their primary because it offered more choices, but I thought I needed to put my two cents in some local Democratic elections. Boy was I surprised! There only were three races on my ballot.
That’s when I remembered the selection process takes place before the election process.
Most of the people representing me in political office – Republican and Democrat – had no opposition! The selection process took place within the respective party infrastructure. I remembered something I learned back in the day – in American politics voters only get to choose among those already selected! And Black voters usually only get to choose the lesser of the evils.
The votes that select who will serve are taken within parties. That’s why it is critically important that Black folks participate in political parties – whichever you choose – at the ground level. By the time political parties play their corrupt games of gerrymandering and cronyism, voters are left with whatever choices they’ve made!
That’s why I’m so ticked off with groups which have figured out the profit motivation for voter registration efforts and go after those dollars, but neglect voter education initiatives. People need to understand those shysters don’t mean us no good! They get paid through grants and other funding to register voters, but they’re not going to give us the information we need to empower us in the process.
In the June 6 Charleston Chronicle Dr. William Small said Black folks need to remember “all motion ain’t progress” – just because you’re moving don’t mean you’re going anywhere. It’s a sin and a shame that for the past 53 years since Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, Black folks have elected more of their own to public office than at any other time in the history of our people in this country, yet remain almost as politically impotent as before Johnson signed it. And we still got folks telling us to vote for Black candidates just because they’re Black!
Why would I ask a baker to fix the engine in my car? If I need work done on my car, I need a mechanic, not a baker. I don’t give a darn if the mechanic is Black or orange, I need him to be able to fix my car! I don’t care how pretty the baker is, how much I like him or whether we go to the same church – I need somebody who can fix my car! What about that don’t we understand?
Anybody who encourages you to hire a baker to fix your car just because the baker is Black ain’t looking out for your best interest. You need to ask yourself what that fool is getting out of the deal.
In November we’ll get another chance to participate in the election process. We’d do well to also remember the selection process will have been concluded and that our best bet at that point will be to choose the lesser of the evils.