Midterm elections show just how far we have to go

November 1, 2010
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“The road ahead is not altogether a smooth one. There are no broad highways that lead us easily and inevitably to quick solutions. But we must keep going.”- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In 2008, vibrant, young voters in upwards of 22 million strong made it clear who they wanted to be president of these United States of America.

For the first time in history it seemed as if more black youth had become engaged in the political process. Rappers like Jay Z, Young Jeezy and Nas, among others spread the importance of exercising a right that was denied to former slaves only several generations ago.

And we reach the crossroads again, but the choices don’t seem as easy.

John W. Fountain III

I remember my grandparents used to take me to the polls at a local Austin grammar school gymnasium. I would sit patiently while they cast their ballots. On one particular day I asked my grandfather who he had voted for. “I voted all Democrat,” he said. Later, as I began to vote his words stuck with me, and I have never punched that ticket. I have done my best to be aware of which people would best represent me.

Is it too much like homework to stay informed in a representative democracy where officials and the needs of people are plenty? Of course.

Two years ago, it was easier to be against something rather than to dig through the politics and compile a list of candidates who represent some fashion of a voter’s everyday life. But that is what being an American citizen offers — a freedom to choose which candidate aligns with one’s best interest. Having a role in this society greatly depends on how informed of the issues we’re willing to be and remain. A basic understanding of public policy influences the distribution of power, wealth and education. Even deeper is the knowledge that blacks were once denied this basic right.

Too often, the black community looks to a perceived elite group of black people for permission or authentication. Too many qualified black leaders seek validation from the same elite group before deciding to spearhead a campaign or focus on a particular issue. Everyone is looking to see what the next is doing. Some just want to know who everyone else is voting for.

From the national platform to the local areas of government and the emergence of the Tea Party, Green Party and Independent candidates, the lines are blurred, political views and promises overlap. Allegations of wrongdoings from commercials and debates make it even harder to tell the lesser of the many evils.

At times it seems overwhelming. Entertainers aren’t publicly endorsing candidates. They’re just urging everyone to vote. Without a course in political science some young black voters may not feel the same connection as they did during the Obama campaign.

It is the role of the individual voter to make his or her own decision based on their experiences and knowledge about each candidate.

Just remember this: The overall quality of education in urban schools remains the same. The budget deficits are at astronomical highs. Unemployment is high, too. The whirlwind of hope from that autumn night in Grant Park is now a lingering breeze.

I do not think we can wait until 2012 to rally for a second term. Our youth need to stay pressed on the conditions of the political landscape that alters their very existence. The midterm elections only serve as a reminder of not how far we have come, but how far we still have to go.

As I step into the booth Tuesday, I will recall the nostalgia of the 2008 election. I will also remember my grandfather’s words when, for the first time, I punch an all Democratic ticket.

Vote Nov. 2. to find your polling place, visit http://www.chicagoelections.com/

3 thoughts on “Midterm elections show just how far we have to go

  1. John, thanks for emphasizing the importance of thoughtfully evaluating each candidate before casting a vote. But how could you write all of that and then step into the booth, go against your own advice and vote straight Democrat?!?

    John, our Austin community needs thoughtful voting!! We need honest, accountable, and hard-working leaders. As you pointed out, it may take some digging to find those candidates, but we need to elect officials that can help dig Austin out. We need to hold our officials accountable with our votes.

    We are capable of so much more at the polls!

  2. I voted from my own perspective, experiences and choices of leaders provided on the ballot.

    They weren’t many options to choose from. How many of those officials representing Austin ran without opposition? Who are those hard-working, thoughtful leaders that you are speaking of? How many of these officials were challenged to town hall debates? How many were urged to put there agendas in the public arena?

    We can only hold them accountable if we have more options in who we want to represent us. Austin is caught up in the same “politics-as-usual” as other neighborhoods in Chicago where the same names of elitists continue to come up time and time again. No one challenges the monotony. Maybe that will change in the next election as Daley steps down.

  3. In reading your original post, I thought that the whole point is that we need to do our homework, even if it is a lot of work, and cast smart votes. If you did your homework, looked at the whole picture, picked your candidates, and they all happened to be from the same party… great. However, the straight ticket vote – one deciding they will simply vote for a particular party regardless of the individual candidate goes against the premise of your original post. Voting straight ticket leaves the ultimate decision up to the select few in power who slate candidates for that particular party. Essentially, it defers the choice to those whose greatest interest is staying in power. Thus, we have “politics-as-usual”.

    John, I agree with you that there was not a whole lot to choose from as far as candidates. I fear most of those hard-working, thoughtful leaders that I was speaking of stay on the sidelines because they know the pattern. They know that in the current system, there are just too many that vote straight ticket to be overcome. (There was a particular Cook County race that exemplified this!). If a candidate comes in pushing an end to politics as usual, do you think they will get the support of the few in power that want to remain in power? No. They will not be slated and they will not receive the straight ticket votes that now decide elections.

    Maybe if we cast votes against those who play politics as usual – even if it means voting for a marginal opponent at this time – we will show those hard-working and thoughtful leaders that are now on the sidelines that we DO want to hear from them and that we WILL give them a chance. Even if the politics-as-usual candidate still wins, wouldn’t it be more encouraging to other candidates if they only won with 45% as opposed to 75%? That may encourage the incumbent to actually campaign and solid challengers to step up. You are right, Austin needs options – a good selection of candidates from which to choose. I think this is the path to get us there.

    As you pointed out, the upcoming City elections will give us another opportunity for the people of Austin to demand solid leaders. Let’s go Austin! The youth in our neighborhood want opportunities and they want change. They want schools that will give them opportunities. Let’s elect people who will serve our community and the city with integrity, hard work, and excellence! Let YOUR vote be YOUR voice.

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