By Barney Blakeney
I recently was thinking of something a friend says to me about being prepared – poor planning produces poor performance.
The thought initially came to me regarding the recent three-day Southeastern Wildlife Exposition that came to town last month. Begun in 1983, each year some 40,000 visitors converge in Charleston for the annual event leaving an estimated $50 million behind. Last year, the 42nd annual Cooper River Bridge Run was held in April and produced similar results – an estimated 40,000 visitors came bringing with them a $30 million economic impact.
Former Charleston Minority Business Enterprise Office Manager Theron Snype said there simply aren’t enough Black owned businesses in existence to capitalize on the special events that bring millions of dollars into the local economy. The reality is, beyond a handful of Black restaurants and tour guide companies, local Black business is not prolific or diverse, Snype said. I’ve been writing stories in hope that Charleston’s Black business community might prepare to access that economic prosperity by creating new businesses. It ain’t happening.
The February 29 South Carolina Democratic Primary, for me, represented another economic opportunity Black folks have failed to prepare to access. Seven Democratic candidates came to our state asking us to help make them the foremost ruler of the world – president of the United States – and we asked for nothing in return. Black folks who comprise some 60 percent of Democratic voters in the state, possessing the power to decide who would approach that apex made no demands in trade for their votes. But that’s only half of the problem!
Some 64,000 voters cast ballots in the February 29 primary election representing a 48 percent increase over the 2016 Democratic primary in South Carolina. One friend told me it was the first time he had voted in a primary election. Another asked what was the significance of voting in primary elections? Back in the 1960s as Black people flocked to the polls in mass numbers for the first time in generations, Black Power advocates said because our people didn’t have a voice in choosing candidates, we ultimately were left making choices between the lesser of the evils. Primary elections offer voters that voice.
Two years ago I wrote a column about economic injustice. I had talked to a guy who remembered when U.S. Highway 17 North east of the Cooper River was a two-lane road from the Charleston peninsula all the way to Myrtle Beach. The sweetgrass basket ladies had their stands along the side of the road from which they sold their baskets. Today, not only have the sweetgrass basket stands disappeared, the residents who sewed the baskets also have disappeared.
Predominantly white residential subdivisions now occupy the communities where black folks once lived. Black folks who still live east of the Cooper now must visit their relatives in North Charleston. We gave up economic power for a ride in the front seat of a bus and a room at the local Motel 6. With more than $1 trillion in spending power we produce nothing and demand little more.
So what does that mean going forward to the November general election? I think that means Black folks must make some demands of Joe Biden or whomever we bestow our votes upon. Because we’ve failed to adequately prepare, we’re left with the choice between the lesser of the evils. Black folks act as though their scared of Donald Trump. Our people made it through 400 years of American slavery, we can make through the era of Trump.
But we can’t continue to sit on our hands and watch each successive election roll past without taking the necessary steps to participate in the prosperity either Trump or Biden will produce. Early voting doesn’t only mean voting absentee a week prior to an election – it also means participating in political parties at the levels where candidates are honed and developed. It means voting in primary elections which send candidates to general elections. And it means being prepared so that we don’t get stuck with other people’s choices.