Join the Political Debate: a chapter from the book:
Rise Up! 42 Additional Ways to Improve Black America Now, written by Gary A. McAbee
NOTE: this excerpt was written in 2012, when I encouraged all people to get involved in the political process. It was an attempt to get people to wake up, and learn about the ways politics affect our daily lives. Today, the idea that people should pay closer attention to politics is more important than ever. As a country, we need to read and educate ourselves every day to join the political debate…
Now that we have an African-American President, there really is no excuse for black people to doubt the validity of the political process. The system still has subtle inequalities and injustices here and there, but for the most part we can believe that it works. We can believe that our votes are counted and they have meaning. We can believe that our voices, so often ignored in the past, have been heard. Now there is no excuse why we should not be more involved in politics, and issues that shape our communities, and nation as a whole.
How many ways are there for African Americans to contribute to the political process? We can start by voting. Barack Obama’s candidacy energized a new generation of voters while reawakening so many disenchanted ones. Let’s face it: many blacks were turned off by politics until Barack Obama came along. As a result, our voter turnout results were among the lowest of any race people until 2008. This is a trend that can continue if we ride the political wave that we are currently on.
We cannot forget the sacrifices that our predecessors made so that we can vote today. By voting, we can validate their efforts and the hardships they endured for future generations of African Americans like us. Until recently, our heroes such as Fannie Lou Hamer and Frederick Douglass would have been disappointed in us because of our spotty voting history. However, this disappointment would undoubtedly be turned into pride now that we voted en masse and helped to elect our current leader. In the future, we must continue to honor the legacies of those who paved the way for us to vote today by filling the ballot box.
African Americans can join in the political process by remaining aware of the decisions made on the local level. The decisions made by our city councils have long-lasting impacts on the issues currently affecting our lives. For example, I spoke in this book about the amount of bars and liquor stores in my old neighborhood. It takes licensing and zoning laws to operate businesses, so how can we have so many operating in a given area? The answer is because it is legal and allowed to happen. What can we do to change this?
We can start by getting involved by letting our local elected officials know that this is not acceptable. One thing we can do is voice our displeasure so that more of these places are not allowed to open in our communities. Take this action a step further. If we are not satisfied with our local representatives, we can email, call, or visit them! After all, they work for us and we can vote them out. Our strength lies in the fact that they are aware of this. So, if enough African Americans in Jersey City, NJ choose to complain about the establishments in our neighborhoods, changes would surely follow.
Moving on, education must become a part of the debate when joining the political process. Our schools do not place enough emphasis on the workings of government; therefore, we are left out of the loop when it comes to political matters. We can easily overcome this by using a very powerful tool at our disposal: the computer. With the advent of the computer, there is no excuse for a lack of knowledge in today’s society! We can learn about politics, the legal system, and policy formulation all by accessing the internet. As a result, we can be better prepared to join the political debate.
Increasing our knowledge base would lead to more African Americans who can become involved in the political process as candidates. A great way to influence and direct change in our communities is to elect our own officials. Our elected officials are vital to our agenda of better education, better and safer schools, and cleaner communities just by their presence alone. Their voice in government is better than having no representation at all. Therefore, we need to be sure that we are raising our next generation of politicians who will shape the future of African Americans.
This influx of talented minds would help to close the gap of a lack of African Americans on the national political scene as well. We are not visible enough in national politics. An illustration of this point is from studies of the Sunday early morning and daily cable news political shows and roundtable discussions. These are the best opportunities for elected officials to join the national political debate in front of millions of interested viewers. The studies paint an interesting picture.
I am one who hates to use statistics, because statistics can be analyzed from many different viewpoints. However, the following statistics about the lack of African-American viewpoints cannot be denied. For example, during a 16-month study on the Sunday morning talk show circuit, only 1 out of every 10 political figures invited was African-American. In fact, 60% of these shows had no black guests at all during the study. As a final thought, 69% of all African-American appearances were made by only three people: Juan Williams (author and FOX News correspondent), and former Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice.
This lack of representation points to the fact that our underrepresentation must be challenged and improved. Even if these political figures could push an agenda favorable to African Americans, how much impact could they really have on today’s political discussions? Therefore, we need more African Americans in politics to keep issues that affect us on the table.
There is one last point to be made about today’s political landscape. This is a reminder to our people, as well as our politicians, not to get caught up in the typical gridlock in our politics thanks in large part to political affiliations. It shouldn’t matter that Barack Obama is a Democrat. Nor should it matter that JC Watts is a Republican. It should not matter to us that Al Sharpton attracts negative publicity. Nor should it matter that Clarence Thomas possesses conservative views. They are all African-American political leaders that we can learn a lot from if we are open to joining the political debate. Their ideals can help us become more interested and educated about the political process.