One of my favorite Broadway musicals is Ragtime, the story of a Black man who, after being humiliated by a racist fireman, decides to fight for justice. Right before his death, at the end of the show, Coalhouse Walker admonishes his followers to "make them hear you".
He says, "If you make them hear you, then we will be victorious.''
Can someone explain to me how the political pundits get off writing off the presidential campaigns before most Black folks have a chance to make our voices heard?
Let me break it down for you. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the total U.S. population is a little over 300 million. The combined population for Iowa and New Hampshire is 4.5 million. About 38 million Black people live in America, of whom only about 90,000 live in Iowa and New Hampshire. So that means that a mere 1.5 percent of all Americans have had a chance to vote, and less than three tenths of one percent of Black people have had that opportunity. By the time you read this Michigan and Nevada results will be in. But most people of color will still be waiting to have their say.
Black people can't let the pundits or the media call this election before we've made our voices heard. The race has now moved to South Carolina, where over 50 percent of those voting in the Democratic primary are likely to be Black. Next up will be Tsunami Tuesday, when California, Illinois, New York and others will vote. This is where it gets fun for Black people.
Every Democratic campaign is going to want our vote. The Republicans seem far less interested in getting Black votes. Remember the presidential debate on Black issues that Tavis Smiley moderated back in September? Well, none of the leading candidates at the time — John McCain, Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, or Fred Thompson – bothered to show. Of the current front-runners, only Mike Huckabee attended.
But whomever you vote for, we must make America hear us loud and clear. No one should be allowed to take our vote for granted. If a candidate wants us to help him or her get into the White House, he or she has to pay the price. They must have campaign offices in our neighborhoods. They need to sponsor events that focus on issues that matter to Black people—sub prime mortgages, Rockefeller drug laws, three strikes, and HIV/AIDS. Given the impact HIV/AIDS is having on Black America, any candidate interested in the health and well being of Black people should sponsor an AIDS forum or town hall meeting before February 5th. Not to do so sends a powerful message that they don't really care about us.
Forget what the pundits say. Far from being over, for Black folk, the 2008 race for the White House is only just beginning.
Make them hear you.
"…sometimes there are battles
That are more than black or white...
Teach every child to raise his voice
And then, my brothers, then
Will justice be demanded
By ten million righteous men.
Make them hear you."