By Dr. E. Faye Williams, Esq.
National Congress of Black Women — On the morning of November 7th, I woke up in the glow of the re-election victory of President Barack Obama. I was thrilled with the realization that “people power” had overcome all the anticipated advantages of the billions of dollars donated by wealthy Republicans.
I soon began to realize the real work had just begun — again. By expending large amounts of physical and financial resources, we successfully overcame a vicious, vigorous onslaught to defeat and discredit our President. We deserve credit for that effort, but recent history tells us we must be ever vigilant.
The politically naïve might say we’ve met the immediate challenge by voting the President a second term, but don’t forget the success of 2008 and our electoral disaster in 2010. Let’s not ignore the fact that only those enthusiastic about the historic nature of President Obama’s election have maintained support throughout his first term, and there’re still many who’d love nothing more than to maneuver him into failure. Senator Mitch McConnell greeted the president’s second term with the admonishment that he must still acquiesce to the will of the Republican leaders.
Those who study the nuances of politics understand that our support of the President includes voting him into office, and voting for Congressional leaders who want to break the chains of legislative gridlock that condemn us to cultural and economic stagnation. While it’s unreasonable to expect total compliance to the will of the President, it is reasonable to expect legislators to participate in good-faith considerations of legislative approaches to resolving problems facing our nation. We must be firm in our resolve to use our vote to reward those who demonstrate an active and on-going willingness to work in the national interest and dismiss those who allow partisan politics to prevent progress.
While we hold the feet of our legislators “to the fire,” we must be equitable in our requirement for responsibility from them. I was disturbed by reports that members of “minority” communities were being fooled by dirty tricks that included being told voting was being conducted by phone; or, because of high-volume voting, Democrats were being scheduled to vote on the Wednesday after election day. I was disturbed by the wide-spread suppression efforts that created lines of minority voters waiting hours to vote and stretched far distances from polling places -while similarly situated white voters were completing voting in 20-30 minutes or less. Although it is obvious the source of these problems is external to our communities, the success of these scams is indicative that we have to take better care of our own “business.”
We must engage in civics re-education. The more informed about the electoral process we become, the less susceptible we are to confusion and deceit about the process. The more engaged we are in the political process, the less likely we are to allow the type of local administration of elections that create the lines witnessed outside polling places. We must challenge local election officials and demand outcomes that increase access to voting opportunities instead of limiting them. With our involvement in the election process, we can elect state and local officials who value the principles of democracy and extending the vote to as many eligible citizens as possible.
Of all the good news from the 2012 election is a heightened awareness of the empowerment of voting is the best. One of the earliest civic lessons I learned was, “If you don’t vote, you don’t count!” I have found that lesson to stand firm to the test of time. The more we understand and embrace this lesson, the brighter our collective futures will become. We live in a society where there is no value in living outside the political process.
(Dr. E. Faye Williams is Chair of the National Congress of Black Women. www.nationalcongressbw.org. 202/678-6788)