Monday, June 10, 2024

Why Should I Vote?

January 13, 2008 by  
Filed under News, Politics, Weekly Columns

( What does a vote for Barack Obama really mean? It’s strange, everyone I talk to seems to have different opinions about it, whether they’re young or old, male or female, everyone has something to say. I’m African American, and I have four children, two of my children are in high school and the other two are in grade school. What excites me about the Obama candidacy, is slightly off of the beaten path. I live in Illinois, and I’ve been voting democratic since I first started voting in 1979. I couldn’t believe it, we were trying hard to elect a black mayor, and another brother was running for state comptroller. In 1979 we won the statewide race for comptroller and four years later we were all part of electing Harold Washington to be the first black mayor for the city of Chicago in 1983. It was an unforgettable experience for a young guy like me. Illinois sort of represents what our entire country looks like, it’s about 75% white, 14% black, and has a growing Hispanic and Asian population. Even though African Americans are a minority in Illinois, the Harold Washington campaigns for mayor in 1979 and 1983, gave us a blueprint on how to convince our democratic party to support candidates from our community, in local and statewide elections. The first African American to win statewide here was Roland Burris for state comptroller in 1979. After 1991 we ran him for attorney general, and won. In 1993 win ran Carol Moseley Braun, and she became the 1st African American female to win a United States senate seat. There are two men from our community currently serving our state, U.S. Senator Barack Obama and Secretary of State Jesse White. They both won statewide elections by huge margins, even though blacks are a minority group within the state of Illinois. So far we have elected more African Americans to statewide executive leadership positions, than any other state in our country. There is a very important reason why we have been so successful.

The crucial lesson we learned from the 1979 Roland Burris and Harold Washington campaigns is use the “primary” elections as leverage to ensure accountability from our local or state political parties. We learned that if you are seeking real leadership positions within your party, you have to endorse the candidate from your community in the “primary election”. This action forces the political party establishment to 1) Work for and endorse the communities’ candidate in the general election. Or 2) Work for and endorse the communities’ agenda in the general election, for fear of losing the communities’ support or vote once again in the general election. In Illinois, we have learned, there is no option 3 ) for the political party establishment, because winning the election is their ultimate goal. We learned that the state political party can only gain power through local elections, so they will support whomever you select in the primaries. (the primaries are the keys to the party accountability vehicle) Illinois politics has proved that if you want real leadership or influence within your political party’s establishment, you first have to withhold their payday (votes) in the primary, until they do all their work for you before the general election. Then, and only then, have they earned their pay or (votes) for the general election. The process works, we keep proving it election after election over and over again. Action, not words have to take place in the “primary” election, if you want a seat and influence at the head of the table, in the general election. This political strategy holds the party and the candidates accountable to the community, because the political parties need success in the general elections, to maintain power over the opposing political party.

So needless to say, I am extremely pleased about the political opportunities the presidential campaign of Barack Obama presents to all democrats. I have been very impressed with the professional way he is running his campaign. He has organized his campaign in such a way, that it is competing with and beating the vaunted politics of the Clinton machine. It’s obvious to me now, that Obama’s organizational skills were surely underestimated by the Clintons. Obama has proven to be a pretty sharp, and probably could have created and/or headed some fortune 500 company somewhere. The fact that he’s African American is cool, but that doesn’t hold as much weight for me, as his competency and policies. I’ve just spent the last seven years watching Condoleezza Rice and Clarence Thomas on television, so just being an African American doesn’t hold much weight anymore, we have to expect more from our public officials, or they will take us down with them. Condoleezza Rice is a woman and Clarence Thomas is a man, so if she was a guy, and he was a woman, would it really make any difference, not to me. I don’t support their policies and/or judgments. I don’t believe that their positions are good for my family or this country. As democrats, I don’t think it’s wise to get caught up in a gender debate either. We may actually have to consider how each candidate can help lead our party and our country: before, during and after their time in office. The decisive issue of these primary elections can’t be whether a candidate is black or white, female or male, we can afford to think that way, there is too much at stake this time. The upcoming primary elections will seriously determine the future of our families, our country and the direction of the democratic party.

As I weigh the decision, I can’t help but observe that the Obama campaign has given our community an opportunity to open up the lever of political power in the democratic party at the national level. His campaign is allowing us to use these primary elections to make our national party establishment accountable to the community, if they want guaranteed success in the general election. If we overwhelmingly support Obama this primary season, our community will have a real leadership position at the head of the democratic table, setting the agenda for the general election in our communities. We have to take action now, and send a message by supporting Obama, and using his campaign to gain real leadership through the primary process. This election is and will ultimately be more important than either candidate. As democrats, we also have to acknowledge the fact that if we throw our support around Obama, the base of our party will expand. Obama’s campaign is attracting the bulk of independent voters this primary season. Numbers don’t lie, as our base of democratic voters expand, the size of the republican party will shrink. If we are smart enough to overwhelmingly support the Obama campaign in these primaries, the same trends will expand our voting blocks in the congressional races and thereby decrease the republican’s congressional voting block as well. We have everything to gain, and nothing to loose, but we need to start supporting the Obama campaign immediately. As democrats we have to analyze the position each campaign puts our community in before, during and after the candidate leaves office. Simply put, the future of our party is at stake. When Bill Clinton was elected president, our party controlled the executive and legislative branches of the federal government. The judicial branch was pretty much balanced. When the Clinton administration ended, our political party was in the worst condition of its entire existence. For the first time in American history, democrats lost control of all four political institutions. Our party lost the presidency, the senate, the house of representatives and the supreme court was leaning heavily to the right on all of it’s decisions. Al Gore will attest to that point. I submit that the overall effect of the Clinton administration damaged the democratic party so severely, we have not yet fully recovered from its impact. That is why I’m encouraging all democrats to learn from our past, and look at the opportunities put before us presently in this primary election. We should send a message to the party establishment by overwhelmingly endorsing the Barrack Obama’s campaign this primary season. I don’t believe it is wise for this party to be looking back at the past for leadership, because our party will crash again, and possibly let our political future pass us by.

I know reading this, some people are going to think I’m some kind of political operative, working on behalf of someone’s staff, but I’m not. I’m the father of four children, here in Chicago, Illinois. If a stranger is passing by my apartment building, they would probably mistake it for the “projects.” I don’t live in the “jets,” but my apartment building isn’t the “Ritz” either. I made that point to let everyone know, that I’m just a working dad, that understands that we cannot take a chance with the future of our families and the democratic party, by looking backwards and not forward in this primary election. Here in our state, we’ve learned how to use the primary process to elect and re-elect leaders in the party that are accountable to our community. Because of the actions we take in the primaries, candidates know they will not win the general elections without our support. This political strategy has netted Illinois, two United States senators, a secretary of state, an attorney general, and a state comptroller. Most importantly, all candidates won executive political positions for our state, true leadership positions, even though our community is only about 14% of the state’s population. Here in Cook County, we live, breathe and learn democratic party politics daily. I am hoping that your communities will take advantage of the political lessons we have learned and implemented within our state. This primary election, is the perfect vehicle for your community to use its leverage and take on a real leadership role, within the democratic party.

Our state didn’t come up with this successful political strategy very quickly, we have been comparing notes since 1979, using our local media to communicate, exchange ideas, and pass on information that works. It helps to have black owned and operated media services, like the Chicago Defender newspaper and WVON talk radio, which is on the air 24/7 talking about politics, politics, and more politics, everyday. I made that point, because we need to share this information with as many democrats as possible, if we are to take advantage of the political opportunity the Barack Obama candidacy is providing. In Illinois we’ve taken advantage of this strategy locally, and statewide. All main branches of our state government, the gubernatorial office, state senate, and the state house of representatives are under democratic control. That’s not counting the statewide races won for U.S. senate, secretary of state, attorney general and state comptroller, all by candidates from our very own community. The political strategy I’m describing has worked in the past, is working now, and will work in the future. If you community takes action now, it will surely benefit from the same results. I’m submitting this message, hoping that all democrats across this nation, will take advantage of the in powering political lessons we have learned here in Illinois, and support the Obama candidacy overwhelmingly in these primaries, so all of our voices are heard. This process automatically in powers your communities to negotiate with the democratic party establishment and party nominee, for real leadership and accountability before the general election. We must not let any nominee or party take our primary vote for granted. We are in a wonderful position to expand and strengthen our party. These upcoming primaries are more important to our communities’ political future, than any of the individual candidates running in this race. This year’s primary vote will chart the future of your democratic party.

Written By H. Smith

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