It seems like only yesterday that I was driving past the Chicago Public Library on Chicago Avenue. A line of people down Chicago Avenue wrapped around the block. At the time, I didn’t realize what was going on. Later that day, I again drove past the library and there were different people, but the line was just as long.
Then it hit me. These people were waiting in line to cast their vote. They did not care how long they had to wait; they wanted to be part of history. They wanted to cast their vote for America’s first black president. They wanted to be part of the “change” that was being promised. I believed that for the first time, as now First Lady Michelle Obama put it, they were proud of their country.
I got out of my car and took pictures of the long lines. I also talked with a few people about why it was so important to vote. Most truly believed that this time things would be different – that the President of the United States would be the change agent black folks so dearly needed. With all of the change-and-hope stuff, I almost began to believe as well, but I also knew in the back of my mind that the political change needed for black folks would have to come locally.
The local political decisions affect us the most. It was our state officials who voted to give the United Neighborhood Organization (UNO) $98 million in state funding to build a new charter school, even though the CEO of UNO had said his focus was on Hispanic Americans only. Let the African Americans address their own issues, he said. Yeah, change.
It was our alderman who believed it was more important to serve himself (he pleaded guilty) than to serve the public interest. Yeah, change. It is our local officials who have decided to change jobs as often as you or I change underwear, even though they were elected by the people to do one job.
African Americans need to become politically astute. We have to change our thinking. It can no longer be about my agency, my church, my block, or my business. We have to develop a community agenda. We should decide what is most important for the people. Are there issues we can all stand together on? Can we wrap ourselves around a few issues and deliver a mandate to our black elected officials?
Hand the aldermanic black caucus, as well as the state black caucus, a list of issues the community will fight to have addressed. If they cannot deliver, work to have those officials removed.
Is constructing a new school building in Austin our issue or developing better education? Is lack of police our issue or non-responsive, insensitive officers? Do we need more health care facilities or more accountability from the ones currently here? What about our church leaders? Do we need more churches or pastor participation or is it important that they live in the community where they serve?
I don’t know. I do know that if we are truly concerned about the plight of African Americans in our communities, we have to begin with a strategic plan for change.
For if we don’t begin to think and plan together, we will continue to deal with the same old issues, the same old way, with the same old politicians.
Remember, election time is just around the corner