Collectively, African Americans have been voting as a bloc since the late 1960s. We have been very kind, especially to the Democratic Party and to anyone Black running for a local office. We have elected officials who have spent an entire career in some slots without having anything of substance to claim as an accomplishment.
African Americans have been the least selective and least demanding of all blocs of voters. Poverty, crime, legal injustice, unfair taxation and unemployment have become household terms to us, and for some reason, we accept it. We do not hold our elected officials accountable, especially the Black ones.
This November, I propose we do something radically different. If things aren't noticeably better than they were at the last election we should make big changes. Upgrade your local officials by voting in new ones who claim they can do better. Give the new ones a one-term chance. If they succeed they can have another shot at it. Maybe then our plight will improve.
Many of our communities have Black mayors, chiefs of police, fire chiefs, school superintendents, city councilors and so on. Yet, we have double-digit unemployment while the American average is 4.2 percent. We have children who are functionally illiterate. Our children, especially boys, are unjustly represented in court and go off to jail needlessly. We are taxed to the neck and get little government service in return.
Things are bad and someone Black either did it or let it happen. Why do we continuously re-elect them? No longer can we blame "The Man." It is on us.
How ludicrous is it when a locally elected official proclaims that a construction project has been declared "union only," when there is no one in his district or precinct who belongs to any construction union? How sick is it when school board members meet continuously while students cannot learn the fundamentals of reading, writing and basic math?
The biggest rip-off to the residents of "chocolate cities" around the nation is professional sports stadiums. Billions of dollars have been appropriated for new stadiums that replace perfectly fine existing ones. The money is raised through industrial or revenue bonds that are, in effect, tax increases upon the residents of those cities.
The work benefits (jobs and contracts) go to people and companies that do not reside or pay taxes within those cities. Those hotels and restaurants around the new stadiums are not owned by any local residents. A large chunk of the fans come from the suburbs and rural areas that do not have to pay a cent in the tax burden. Thus, it is total exploitation. Outsiders get the thrill and the Black residents get the bill.
After you clean up the "local trash," begin evaluating state and federal elected officials. Has your governor done something about prison reform? If not, vote him out. What has he done about your state's health care costs and delivery system? If not enough, vote him out. Call the local office of your U.S. Representative and Senator and see how they voted on the renewal of the Voting Rights Act. If they voted against it, vote them out.
It is imperative that we put pertinent issues on their minds, so that they can adequately think these issues out and do the right thing.
That is why Mayor Corey Booker of Newark, N.J., and U.S. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois excite us all. They bring fresh air and dare to lead. This is what America needs. No longer, in this dangerous world, can we afford to have followers instead of leaders.
Those who go along to get along or do not think at all cannot sit in places that require people who can act. Vote them out!
Harry Alford is president and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce Inc.