I remember some time ago being at a meeting where I heard Illinois State Rep. Arthur L. Turner make the profound statement that “politics is the best business going.” At the time, I remembered thinking, “What does politics have to do with business?”

Webster’s dictionary defines business as “a usually commercial activity engaged in as a means of livelihood.”

I had always thought of business and politics as being separate, but now that I have been in the business arena for almost 10 years, I understand how politics and politicians have an effect on the success or failure of our businesses. I am often amazed at how many business owners I meet who tell me that they do not want to have anything to do with politics or politicians. They say, “Every one of those guys is corrupt.” Yet these business owners are willing to put their fate in the hands of politicians, social service organizations, and even church leaders, allowing them to make choices that affect them financially.

Our politicians are making policies and laws by which we are governed. How can they “represent our interests” if we are not involved in the political process via the vote, petition, being organized, or being armed with information on where we stand on the issues that most affect us? We cannot afford to be sideline players because in some of our cases our businesses are what feed our families.

I also mentioned social service organizations because we trust that they are doing what is right for business, but the rules by which they play are very different from those of a business owner. Big, fat?”and some small?”organizations receive federal, state and local money, some well into the millions, while portraying our communities as blighted and not fit for commerce. It is very important for us as business owners to be aware of those who say they are representing our best interests. I have heard it said that no matter what your field of expertise, when it comes to birthing a baby, you will never know the true meaning until you are the one who physically gives life. I can say that they cannot truly understand what it is like to be a black business owner until they are the ones risking savings, family time, and in some cases risking your life.

It is my hope that those of us who are African-American and in business will began to understand that we are not only important when it’s time to buy fundraiser tickets. We are not only important when politicians need someplace to display their campaign signs. We are not only important at meetings when politicians need a show of support. We must also see ourselves as important enough to say no to those politicians whom we have not seen since the last election. We must ask ourselves how much business our political representatives are steering our way.

Ask yourselves, of all the people who say they are for African-American businesses, how many have been in your places of business and how many people say that they were referred to you from political, community, or religious organizations? Can you imagine the impact we can have if we thought of business as the best politics going?

As we approach the primary election, we need to understand that we have power. As the Austin community begins to hear from those seeking public office, we should recognize that we can make a difference in the direction of our businesses, our community, and our people. So let’s go to the polls and vote on March 21. It is not just your right as a United States citizen.

It is your responsibility.