Most readers will be familiar with this scenario. A white politician that you have not heard from in two years starts to show up at Black churches, glad-handing the pastors, reciting for the congregation his or her accomplishments that you’ve never heard of and reminding you to vote for him or her in the upcoming elections.
It’s a scenario that is played out in most political districts where Blacks make up a significant portion – but not the majority – of the electorate. We know very little about these absentee politicians except that they are “the lesser of two evils” – the choice offered to those Black folk allowed to vote, since the end of the Reconstruction.
The question is: Why are we consistently faced with only being able to choose between the lesser of two evils each election cycle? Or put another way: “Why can we not have more options when selecting who will represent us?
The answer is that we do have more options. We simply must constantly stay politically “woke” and not wait until the last minute to pay attention to who the potential candidates are. Politicians interested in running in 2020 already are lining up at the starting gate. People aspiring to become the next president of the United States already have advance people in Iowa and other key states in preparation for the primary elections. Those eying congressional seats, state and local offices are organizing their political teams in order to hold on to those offices or to unseat an incumbent.
2016 has shown us that if we do not get engaged, we are in danger of being saddled with a lying racist, bent on erasing all of the gains people of color have made during the last five decades.
2018 has shown us that when people organize, they can overcome many of the obstacles that are strewn in our paths to equal justice and the freedoms promised to us by the U. S. Constitution. 2018 also has shown us that there are those who would deny people of color justice and freedom by blocking us from our guaranteed right to vote.
The Georgia governor’s race shone the light on how bigots and racists will go to any lengths to tilt the vote in their favor by removing voters from the rolls and by making it more difficult for voters to get to the polls to cast their ballots. Republican Brian Kemp ran for governor of that state while refusing to step down as its secretary of state, the office that oversees elections in Georgia. Over the years, Kemp systematically removed Black voters from the rolls through various questionable means, giving himself a clear advantage by increasing the percentage of would-be voters who were white.
There are those who will try to cheat us out of our rights, including our right to vote. There are those who will try to steal elections in the way that Trump did in 2016 with the help of Russian interference. These people can be stopped, however. They can be stopped by you and by me. They can be stopped by your parents and your voting-age children – and by your aunts and uncles and cousins and friends.
The way we stop them is by looking for people qualified to run for office in federal, state and local elections and helping them to win. These people can be found among your parents and your voting age children – and your aunts and uncles and cousins and friends. They must be identified and then encouraged to run for office. And when they run, we must support them. We must support them with our time, our labor and with our money. There may not be many of us that can give much of any of these things, but we can each give something.
If we make more of an effort, we can get more elected officials of the type we want and deserve. The proof is in the pudding. 2018 saw a record number of women of color elected, and it is expected that these women will work to steer America back on the correct course to fulfilling the promises of our Constitution.
According to the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University, women of color now will occupy:
38 seats in Congress
9 statewide elective offices
456 state legislative seats and
10 mayors’ offices in some of the nation’s 100 largest cities.
We, as people of color, are in a pitched battle for our rightful place in this nation. And it is a battle that we will not win if we do not enlist as many people as possible in the fight. If we do not identify, enlist and support candidates who champion our best interests, then we deserve the callous and unjust treatment that we receive from elected officials who do not respect us.
The clock is running and so are the same tired old politicians. It is time we bring some serious champions into the fight.
Oscar H. Blayton is a former Marine Corps combat pilot and human rights activist who practices law in Virginia.