A few years ago my beloved brother, Michael, passed away. Michael was in the prime of his life and his passing caught everyone by surprise. Since I was the first of the brood and Michael was the second we were extremely close. We were more than mere siblings, with the same mother and father. We grew up together. We slept in the same room and breathe the same air.
To say that I miss my brother would be a gross understatement. I often dream of Michael. Upon seeing him, my response is always the same. I smile and say in grateful amazement, “Michael, you’re back.”
Still as brothers, Michael and I did not always get along. We had our disagreements, one of the worst of which was over the issue of voting. The gravamen of the argument was my brother’s refusal to vote. Michael never voted for anyone for anything at anytime. I asked him why and reminded him how our ancestors shed blood and tears to afford us the opportunity to vote. His response was the most twisted, convoluted logic I have every heard. “I ain’t voting” he said, nostrils flaring with his usual damn you defiance. “When our ancestors died to give us the right to vote, they also died to give us the right not to vote if we didn’t want to. And I’m exercising my right not to vote.”
“What! Are you serious,” I responded, my disbelief the equal to his intransigence. “Why in the hell would our ancestors fight and die to give us the right not to vote. We already had that. They didn’t die so we could sit on our individual and collective asses. They died so we would have the same rights and opportunities everyone else had.”
Unassailable logic to be sure. However, despite my best effort Michael remained unconvinced. Logic meant little to him. Michael was nothing if not stubborn.
You hear the same nonsense today. Far too many people, read African Americans, refuse to vote or otherwise participate in the political process. Like Michael, their refusal boarders on the bizarre, the insane. And the more you question them, the more you point out the lunacy of their position the more they resist, the more unflinching their attitude, the more determined they are not to vote.
Whether they are acting out of some misguided sense of defying the system, the candidates, the political process, America, or racism, is anyone’s guess. But there it is, for the entire world to see, a dogged determination to politically marginalize themselves. Not surprisingly, these are the same people who do nothing but complain when they are politically ignored.
And while the 2012 presidential election saw a significant rise in African American turnout, national races are only part of the equation. The most important, the most relevant elections are not national but local contest. These are the votes which determine who will be our judges, police chiefs, district attorneys, city council and county board members. These are the individuals who control the most minuet yet significant and intimate details of or lives and communities. These are the politicians who are the closest to us.
They decide how local laws, codes and ordinances will be enforced, what the municipal and county budgets will be, how much we pay in property taxes and how our taxes are spent, what our schools will teach, whether we have trash pick–up one day versus two days a week, whether our streets are paved and our sidewalks are clean and whether our parks and libraries are open for all to enjoy.
They determine which communities benefit from economic and community development projects, where new roads and highways will be built, where new schools will be located and what land will be taken by immanent domain. Equally significant, local elected officials make appointments to boards of the local YMCA, Boys and Girls Clubs, the United Way, cultural and historic organizations, museums, universities, community colleges, police and fire commissions, etc.
It should come as no surprise that candidates for statewide office are usually culled from local elected offices. Nor is it a revelation that candidates for national office rise to prominence from state elected and appointed positions. And if all this doesn’t convince us of the importance of voting let me offer yet additional reasons.
We should vote in order to gain a measure of political power and social relevance. If we want politicians to act in our best interest instead of theirs, we must hold them accountable. And the only way to do so is by rewarding or punishing them at the polls with our vote.
We should vote because by not voting we do more than marginalize ourselves. By default, we advance the agenda of the very forces that exploit and manipulate us. Stated differently, if you want to win you have to play the game. It’s as simple as that.
We should vote because it is our civic responsibility. As citizens of this country we are entrusted with its health and governance. The way we fulfill this responsibility is by participating in the political process. And the primary means of political participation is by voting.
We should vote because our enemies don’t want us to. History teaches that whether by poll taxes, grandfather clauses, literacy tests or voter ID laws, those who would prejudice our right to vote are not our friends. The recent flood of voter suppression efforts under the guise of protecting the system irrefutable proves this quintessential fact.
Most importantly, we should vote because it is our solemn duty to do so. Michael was wrong. Our forefathers did not risk life and limb to waste suffrage. They did so to make us full and complete citizens of this country. The failure to vote both ignores and disrespects this noble sacrifice.
If we can get our hair “did” every week or buy another pair of overpriced tennis shoes that we don’t need, then damn it, we can vote. Voting is important and should not be taken for granted. Our forefathers knew this fundamental truth. And so should we.
As always, share this post with your friends and comment as appropriate.
Leo Barron Hicks, Founder and CEO of the Blackacre Policy Forum, LLC