By Barney Blakeney
Well, it’s all over but the shouting. Voters went to the polls November 6 in unprecedented numbers, especially for a midterm election. That’s a good thing. But sorry, no cigar.
I hate being the guy who always sees the glass as half empty. But the reality of the optimism that the glass is half also means it is half empty. The question then is will the glass ultimately become full or empty. To achieve either outcome takes some kind of action. I think we shouldn’t rest on our laurels. We should take the necessary actions to fill the glass. That means conscientious voter participation.
I got a really disturbing phone call the other day from a friend who said he voted for the first time in a midterm election November 6. I was a little disturbed because my friend is an intelligent and educated person, someone I expected had voted regularly. He said he votes in most presidential elections, but not midterms. I couldn’t figure a rationale for that.
Okay, I know most people don’t vote. In the last election only about 55 percent of the state’s more that 3 million registered voters cast ballots. In Charleston County where there are about 275,000 registered voters only about 150,000 voters, or about 54 percent of total voters, cast ballots. When I was coming through school, 55 percent on a test got you an ‘F’ – a failing grade. I’m disturbed that we’ve lowered the bar to the point where achieving 55 percent gives us cause to be elated.
My friend’s phone call bothered me for several reasons. It was bad enough that someone I considered an astute individual consciously chose to participate only in half the general elections, but he was talking as if that was cool.
Now I don’t mean to step on anybody’s toes; I know a lot of us don’t vote for various reasons, but those of us who should know what time it is I think should be voting. I keep seeing pictures of police dogs biting Black folks and white cops beating them with clubs as they protested for the right to vote.
When I think of the sacrifices some people made to allow Black folks the right to vote already guaranteed them by the U.S. Constitution I always think of Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner. The three, who had been working with the Freedom Summer campaign attempting to register African Americans in Mississippi to vote, disappeared near Philadelphia, Miss. June 21, 1964. Their bodies later were found buried in an earthen dam in rural Neshoba County. And there were others, many whose names we’ll never know and whose bodies never were discovered.
A lot of people made sacrifices so we could exercise rights. Some like Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner were killed outright, and others like the South Carolina family at the center of the 1954 Supreme Court decision to integrate schools – which didn’t happen earnestly in Charleston County until about 1967 – were forced to survive a living death.
Reverend Joseph De Laine, the generally acknowledged leader of Summerton’s African-Americans who sued for equality in schools, was fired from his job at a local school in Silver. His wife Mattie also was fired from her position at Scott’s Branch, as were all the others who signed on to the suit. De Laine’s church was burned. He moved to Buffalo, New York after surviving an attempted drive-by shooting. Harry and Eliza Briggs, on behalf of whose children the suit was filed, both lost their jobs. Harry spent more than a decade working in Florida to support his family. Eliza eventually joined her children in New York.
So as I listened to my friend talk about voting the straight ticket leaving all the non-partisan school board races unaddressed, I got a little intolerant. My closest friends who know how belligerent I can be, but love me anyway, probably can guess what happened after – my boy got the ‘click’! I’ve still got to call him back to apologize.
It’s just that this political thing is so important and has such a profound impact on our lives, we can’t afford to play with this thing! Because we don’t vote as we should and don’t vote with our best interest in mind, we’re being disenfranchised out of stuff our people paid for with their lives. And it ain’t just Black folks – though Black folks have so much more to lose – most white folks don’t vote either and are getting the shaft as well!
I got a call earlier that makes me feel a little better however. A guy asked that I start focusing on the 2019 North Charleston municipal elections. Next year North Charleston voters will elect their mayor and councilmembers. North Charleston voters have a daunting task before them in deciding who will represent them in a rapidly changing city. Black voters especially should pay attention and be involved. About half the Black folks in Charleston County live in North Charleston. What happens to them economically and educationally largely will depend on who they elect. Now is a good time to inform themselves. If they don’t get it right, it’ll again be sorry, but no cigar.