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Letter to the Nationwide "Black Community:" This is the Opportunity for Which Our Forefathers Died - Now is the Time to Maximize the Black Vote - Between the Lines By Dr. Anthony Asadullah Samad, PhD, BC Columnist

On February 5th, Black America will have the opportunity for which it has waited 140 years (138 to be exact). Twenty-two states will pull the lever for their choice to be the Democratic nominee for President of the United States. This is the opportunity to exercise true equality in the most significant race in which African Americans have ever been represented. This is the biggest payoff of the 1965 Civil Rights Act that gave Blacks federal protection against intimidation and harassment simply by trying to exercise our right to vote.

The original and most longstanding form of terrorism this country has ever known (and practiced), with vehement regularity, is voter disfranchisement and voter suppression. Many a black man (and black woman, after 1920) died for insisting on their constitutional right to vote, a right many of us simply concede today. Many black people, in their frustration tied to their quality of life, mistakenly withhold their vote as a form of protest or resignation - in a misguided perception that their vote won’t matter. Your vote always matters, but what also matters is voter efficacy tied to representative accountability.

The worst thing have we done, particularly in the last 40 years, is to sit out critical elections. A fifteen percent higher black voter turnout in 1968, 1988 and 2000 would have changed the outcome of national Presidential elections. The number of Blacks who didn’t vote in 2004 in five states made the difference in John Kerry beating George W. Bush. The first sign of surrendering hope in our communities is usually demonstrated by the surrendering our vote. Not this time. Every black person who has a vote needs to exercise that vote in this election.

The black community has become known for its horrifically low voter turnouts. Conceding your vote is the ultimate surrender, but when the black community becomes highly engaged, through some salient issue or personality, it often represents either the margin of victory or the margin of defeat. We were the margin of victory for John F. Kennedy in 1960, Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Bill Clinton in 1992. We were the margin of defeat for former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, when he ran for California Governor in 1986. The number of votes Bradley needed was in his own backyard - in fact, in his old council district - but he took their votes for granted and they stayed home. They stayed home on Michael Dukakis in 1988 for ignoring the two million new voters Jesse Jackson brought to the process (this business about Jesse being a “black candidate” may have been true in 1984, but in 1988 Jesse registered as many poor white rural voters as he did poor urban black voters as “the rainbow” was in full effect at that time). And they stayed at home on John Kerry in 2004, after a record turnout for Al Gore in 2000, for failing to address issues important to the black community and for failing to campaign in the black community.

The black vote makes a difference, and is the reason Democrats spend so much time trying to get it (they can’t win without it), and Republicans spend so much time trying to suppress it. The only real way you can be equal in American society is to exercise both social and political equality - that’s why they were addressed in two different amendments -  in 1868 (Fourteenth) and 1870 (Fifteenth).

Fulfilling one’s individual potential requires the right to be educated, the right to provide for your family (right to work) and the right to universal suffrage (right to vote). African Americans have historically exercised only two (or one) of the three. But when you look at what have been the three things the dominate society has tried to prevent us from doing (being equal), it is working, being educated and voting. That’s the historical civil rights struggle in our nation. Fast forward to today.

We’ve spent our whole lives, in fact - ten generations of us have spent our lives, talking about how America would never elect a Black President. Well, guess what is on the verge of happening…in our lifetime? I’m not telling you who to vote for (but I am), just know this is not the election we should stand by and watch. This is not the time to rationalize why voting doesn’t matter and why your vote won’t make a difference. This is the culmination of the sacrifice that, as James Weldon Johnson said in Lift Every Voice And Sing, of those “who come over a way of the tears that been watered” and those who come “treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered.”

There have been no more volatile periods in this nation’s Post-Slavery history than the 19th Century “Redemption Period” and the 20th Century “Segregation Period.” Both periods witnessed the retraction of both black civil rights and black voting rights. As a historical note, “Super Tuesday” used to be the first Tuesday in April when all the Southern States used to vote. It was the greatest single voter suppression and voter intimidation date for black voters. It was there that the tears and the blood of our forefathers flowed, and it is their tears and blood that will be on the soles of our shoes as we tread to the polls next week, be it in rain, in snow, in trickeration (confusion around polling places), and in suppression (closing polls early or running out of ballots). It shouldn’t matter what the condition. All that should matter is that in this time for which we’ve waited all our lives, we vote.

The black community should have the highest voter turnout ever, on this “Super-Duper Tuesday,” when a maximized black vote will send a signal to the nation that equality in America is real. This is the opportunity our forefathers wished they had. It’s the opportunity for which they died. Columnist Dr. Anthony Asadullah Samad is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum and author of the new book, Saving The Race: Empowerment Through Wisdom. His Website is Click here to contact Dr. Samad.

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January 31, 2008
Issue 262

is published every Thursday

Executive Editor:
Bill Fletcher, Jr.
Peter Gamble
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