Caption: Have Black voters lost the passion we once had?
Intro to cover story
March 20 is the day—primary elections in Illinois! It’s the day we will find out who will represent the Democrats (and Republicans) in the gubernatorial race that seems to have been going on for a very long time. It’s the day one person in a slew of contested races will emerge as the victor, ready to face only one opponent in the general election in November.
While campaign spending seems to be on the rise—just check out the commercials, flyers and other ads—many voters are discouraged and left feeling apathetic. We wonder if Black people have lost their passion for the voting process. Have current circumstances left us deciding not to vote, thinking our voice doesn’t matter?
On the dawn of the election, the Defender continues to interview those running for offices in this issue and our advertorial edition (the pullout City Vote section); and this week, we’ve taken a look at the voting process from two different perspectives. We offer two articles on the voting process as it relates to the relaxed Black voter.
Thinking Beyond The Vote
By Charles Preston
Defender Contributing Writer
It’s voting season in Chicago. This means that if you are young and Black, be prepared to hear how your generation should vote to not only undo decades of compounding social issues but to forge a new path for Black people to live harmoniously in the city of Chicago.
Election season is a season of humiliation for Black people who choose to abstain from voting, especially millennials. No matter where you go, you can expect to be shamed into engaging the electoral process. Brace yourself for pretentious lectures and self-righteous diatribes that pin Chicago’s problems on Black youth choosing not to go to the polls. Predictably there will be stories about Selma, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and how much our predecessors endured in order to gain the right to vote. Yes, it’s that time of year again and not much has changed with conversation in regards to millennials voting.
But let’s take a moment to look at Chicago’s current political landscape. As it stands currently, all of Chicago’s predominantly Black aldermanic wards are controlled by Black Democrats. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a Democrat, has won two elections with consecutive endorsements from former President Barack Obama (also a Democrat). Democrats control all of the county positions. City Treasurer and City Clerk? Democrats.
All are results of the Black community voting in past voting cycles.
This is important because despite having Black Democrats elected throughout Chicago, Black millennials have yet to find adequate representation that ceases the need for protest.
We’ve seen Black millennials storm the streets for Laquan McDonald against the Democratic opposition in Mayor Emanuel and former State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez. Many of the city’s youth watched with great concern as notable musician Chance The Rapper, along with many young activists, stood in City Hall to adamantly oppose the city’s planned $95 million-dollar cop academy, an academy that all the Black aldermen voted to support. High school seniors hear the thunderous silence of their elected officials as they protest the closing of their schools and watch their neighborhoods rapidly change.
If there is to be any criticism for Black millennials in Chicago not voting, then there must be an acknowledgment of historical context, and perhaps a deep consideration that our current system is extinguishing their faith in this paltry iteration of a representative democracy. How dangerous is it to continuously preach voting as the only effective tactic for true progress for Black youth when their choices are limited to candidates who passionately subscribe to the machine politics of yesteryear?
This dynamic continuously breathes new life into the words of Malcolm X from his 1964 speech entitled “The Ballot or the Bullet:”
“…They get all the Negro vote, and after they get it, the Negro gets nothing in return. All they did when they got to Washington was given a few big Negroes big jobs. Those big Negroes didn’t need big jobs, they already had jobs. That’s camouflage, that’s trickery, that’s treachery, window-dressing. I’m not trying to knock out the Democrats for the Republicans. We’ll get to them in a minute. But it is true; you put the Democrats first and the Democrats put you last.”
Please do not read this solely as an indictment on Chicago’s Democrats. Recognition of their faults will also call attention to the complicity of our friends, family, and––most of all–ourselves. For far too long, many of us have sat idle and just voted in hopes that everything would be just fine; obviously, things are not. But true representative democracy calls for us to have meetings to discuss the state of our communities with our neighbors, it pushes us to hold elected officials accountable no matter whether we voted for them, and it seeks to continuously create an opportunity for the disenfranchised to be visible and heard.
The history of how African-Americans fought to secure the right to vote and organized effective voter registration campaigns should be learned, celebrated, and never dismissed. In fact, those campaigns should continue. But we cannot limit our political capacities to only gathering our folks when it is election time to tell them to vote. Let us imagine and encourage greater as the freedom fighters before would have wanted. Why not put the same energy into advocating for national automatic voter registration or extending voting rights to those who are imprisoned?
To put it succinctly, we have to move beyond voting like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. After securing the right to vote, King decided to protest further and question the moral integrity of a nation that ignores the homeless while waging war overseas. King didn’t die for the right to vote. King was killed for continuing to imagine, for continuing to dream and fighting for the liberation of Black people. It’s time for us to embrace and encourage Black youth to do the same.