Here we are – another presidential election season, with big choices to make. The battle is in full swing, with the candidates trying to build up support and solidify their positions. I am a #BlackBerner and I am with #Women4Bernie.
I sat down with the intention of writing a response to an article about why black people are not supporting Bernie. But I realized that what we really need is a conversation about how to engage in the political process this election season and beyond. Despite being a Black woman from a socially conscious family, I could not adequately articulate reasons for why Black people are reluctant to support someone whose platform coincides with many of the issues that have been long neglected in Black communities. To me it is a no brainer. But everyone is different. Like any other segement of the population we are not a monolithic group, following one supreme platform. While I have fully embraced being part of the growing grassroots movement to change the status quo, there are many people who aren’t “feeling” Bernie or they are “turned off” by his supporters. Others say he does not “know how to campaign” in Black communities.
That last one should be refreshing. It’s true, Bernie isn’t well-versed in the practice of greasing palms, kissing rings, and invoking the black church pastor in his speeches. He is a straight shooter from Brooklyn. He pulls no punches when he talks, and doesn’t back down from speaking the truth not just what sounds good in that moment.
Some people find the incessant Bernie news, updates, and memes annoying; however, we have a message of change and progress, and it must be heard. Change is not easy, but it is absolutely necessary.
Gil Scott-Heron famously said, “the revolution will not be televised.” It also will not be published or recorded. This revolution is driven by the people and for the people, and with dollars from the people!
And it is not just Black voters who are wary or reluctant to #FeelTheBern. Millions of people nationwide are discouraged. They see no reason to get politically active, let alone vote. Leaders in politics, business, and even some in the labor movement ignore the needs of the people and vote for their own interests. They have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Certain members of state and national “leadership” are deeply entrenched in the political elite in general, and in the Democratic Party establishment specifically. They are comfortable working within that system. It has benefited them and, to a lesser extent, their causes.
But we have to be real. Those leaders have failed Black, Brown, and poor communities nationwide on issues such as wage inequality, public school quality, infrastructure development, Social Security, unemployment, domestic violence, police brutality, high interest rates, and high foreclosure.
This election cycle, we must move beyond the rat race of the past 50 years. We must be more critical than ever and make choices differently from how we did in the past. Change is neccessary to sustain and maintain “progress.” As we have seen with the rollback of voting rights in several places, most notably in Alabama, we cannot rest on our laurels or the laws meant to protect us! Yes, people might sound good and talk a good game, but can they back it up? What have they done when faced with the opportunity to make a positive, lasting impact? Have they done what was politically safe? Or have they taken a stand for what is right? Be sure you know your candidate and not just the public face put forward.
I believe there are three basic things everyone should do this election season to be better informed in the voting process:
- Figure out why you are “feeling” or not “feeling” a particular candidate. It is ok to not like someone. But you should be able to clearly articulate why you feel or think the way you do about that person.
- Move beyond the sound bites. Move beyond that one headline you read, or that one article you skimmed through. Check the sound bites and “promises” against voting records. Go to the candidates’ pages and read their plans and proposals. Go to neutral websites to see where candidates stand on issues that matter to you. See who donates money to them. Read what other people are saying about those plans. Also quick check social media posts to make sure it is even accurate. Far too often we post, share, and tweet information that sounds good but isn’t accurate.
- Figure out where your personal/moral political philosophy is, and nurture. Find groups and candidates that are consistent with where you stand. Can’t find one? Be bold, start a new group and invite others to join you. Tap into existing social networks to help find others in your area who may see things the way you do.
Some people have expressed stressful interactions with Bernie supporters. It has been said that we are annoying and condescending among other things. For the most part, grassroots volunteers for Bernie are tired of the needs of the people not being met. We are tired of politics as usual and we’re pushing ahead against a huge political machine that would rather silence us then see us win. We do not simply need change we believe in, or hope, we need to revitalize the working and middle class and provide meaningful opportunities for all and not just the super wealthy. It can happen if people decide that is something worth fighting for. All movements have growing pains, but we need to the take time to reflect and evaluate strategies and messaging as we are moving along in our work. No matter how righteous our quest, there is always space to adjust approaches and tweak messaging. We can be passionate and committed without being condescending and judgmental.
There is much at stake. Sometimes it is good to take a step back and see the big picture. We are running a marathon not a 100-m sprint. Whether we like it or not, as members of a grassroots movement, we are de facto representatives of our candidate. We need to make sure we are communicating in a manner that is consistent with the campaign’s overall goals and objectives. Know your audience and adjust accordingly. Even if you are not officially aligned with the campaign, modeling the behavior of the candidate we support will go a long way in terms of building goodwill with potential voters. Arrogant condescending commentary will not help our cause. From the hood to the hollers, we have to put forth our best efforts in the fight for 2016 and beyond.
In order to have real, meaningful change in our communities, we must use our networks to develop and nurture talent at the local and state levels. This isn’t some corporate shill campaign with a multimillion-dollar war chest. This is a people-powered movement. We are about people. Feedback, criticism, and input from other supporters and undecided folks is crucial — but it’s got to be constructive. Vague comments help nobody. Mere naysaying, without concrete feedback, hinders progress.
In addition, we need to work hard to organize and mobilize voters from underrepresented populations. People power is essential to ensuring the promises of equality for all. Although certain candidates may be more admired, or folks are nostalgic for a time long past, we need practical solutions and a commitment to dramatic change. We cannot discount the value of interacting with others and helping them actualize the full potential of their power. Contrary to popular belief, VOTING IS POWER. To people sitting on the sidelines…get involved. Help shape the policy and initiatives you wish to see addressed. Demanding that candidates do x, y, and z is great, but discussing why those initiatives matter and helping to shape policy is even better. Demanding changes, without specifics, will leave you even more unsatisfied than when you first engaged in the process.
How much more are we willing to take before we stop accepting business as usual? How do we reach people who have been cheated out of their vote? Every election cycle we hear people say, “vote for the lesser of two evils.” In every election cycle, we see candidates who appeal to the fears and prejudices cultivated by years of misinformation and underdevelopment. In both scenarios, hardworking people lose out, while big business and friends keep blossoming.
It is well past time to take our country back from the top 1%. Together we can overcome every obstacle and dismantle corporate America’s stranglehold on the nation.
I am all in with #Bernie2016 — but I know many people who either are not “feeling him” or are on the fence. Still others happily support different candidates.
Regardless of whom you support, I hope we can continue to motivate and engage new and old voters alike. Voting is only one of many ways in which we can create sustainable, positive change in our communities and country. Electing a president with a progressive platform is a lofty goal, but it can become reality when the people fully embrace it.
We need to step outside of our comfort zones, listen to what other people need, and speak up when we must.