“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 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.
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 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 person 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 stepped into the booth Tuesday, I recalled the nostalgia of the 2008 election. I also remembered my grandfather’s words when, for the first time, I punched an all-Democratic ticket.