Prelude to the Black General Political Strike

Nov 19, 2014 at 1:28 am

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” —Frederick Douglass

Another election cycle has come and gone. The Republicans’ strategy of doing nothing other than stymying the country in fear, divisiveness and oversimplification was rewarded with control of the Senate. The Democratic Party was once again a victim of its own ineptitude — offering little clarity and even less courage across the board. The strange post-election move of creating the position of advisor to the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee for new progressive hero Elizabeth Warren — basically making her an intra-party “liaison to liberals” — probably won’t help very much.

The Kentucky headline race between Mitch McConnell and Alison Lundergan Grimes turned out to be worse than Mike Tyson’s beating of Michael Spinks in 1988. It took Tyson 91 seconds to defeat Spinks. The McConnell race was called less than a minute after the polls closed. The thin-skinned Democrats proved once again that they were strategy poor, and also fielded mediocre to subpar candidates. 

As an African-American, I had another concern. The 2014 midterms not only put the ineptitude of Democrats on display once again, they also provided another opportunity to witness the deafening political silence on black social, political and economic distresses. I watched with great interest as many pundits talked about race and minority constituencies. They overwhelmingly talked about Hispanics — rarely mentioning African-Americans.

When “minority” public policy issues of note were raised, the conversation was about immigration reform. Even before all the election results were in, Congressional Hispanic Caucus member Luis Gutierrez (D-Illinois) held President Obama’s feet to the fire. Gutierrez was clear that Obama needed to deliver on immigration reform as promised or the Hispanic community would demand a political price from Democrats. Gutierrez and his constituency are rightfully unapologetic in their demands. As the above Frederick Douglass quote reminds us, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.” I was envious as I witnessed Gutierrez’s commitment.

Unfortunately, black people have ceased with real demands or strategies to respond if they are not met. As Gutierrez made his stand, we heard nothing from black politicians or the Democrats about disparate poverty, unemployment, incarceration, recidivism, police brutality, poor education or other ills plaguing black folks. Despite that reality, like “sheeple” (sheep people), black folks still voted overwhelmingly for the Democrats — just as they’ve done since 1960.

Many thought the election of Barack Obama in 2008 marked the end of oppositional racial political history. They were wrong. In fact, black suffering has increased for many during the Age of Obama. As we enter the 2016 presidential cycle, what can black people do to force government to pay attention to their needs rather than have Democrats simply expect black votes every two, four or six years? I think we need substantive and innovative discussions that go beyond drone-like talking points to address this. We need to have new strategies and ideas that center on what we can do rather that what we can’t.

I offer a potential strategy to reconstruct and reinvigorate a black political agenda: the idea of a “Black General Political Strike.” The premise is not complicated, though the execution might be: What if all black people resolved to vote in no races for one presidential and midterm cycle? I’ll start to seriously unpack this undertaking in this and a series of subsequent writings leading up to 2016. Initially, let me tell you what I’m not asking you to do. I’m not asking black folks to never vote again, lose faith in political action or vote for Republicans, Greens or Libertarians. Next month, I’ll talk about what I am requesting. Please stay tuned and keep an open mind.  


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