Illinois Governor Pat Quinn could have easily avoided giving Republicans any chance at all with African-American voters in 2014. All he had to do early this year was select Chicago City Treasurer Stephanie Neely as his running mate for lieutenant governor. Really, any credible black politician could have been selected. We know, intuitively, why he did not. Democratic politicians know in a general election that “blacks have nowhere else to go.” So Quinn chose an old friend, Paul Vallas, rather than lend an up-and-coming black political leader a hand up.
So Gov. Quinn intentionally left the door open for many of us to at least consider ways we may be able to deal with the unfair and stifling relationship we have with the Democratic Party. We can never talk about improving our communities so long as we are stuck with the status quo. To avoid a condition worse than the one we now have, we must vote 100 percent Democratic, 100 percent of the time. In the public housing projects I grew up in, we called this a “trick bag.” Every four years, after more disappointment, we say next time we may teach the Democrats a lesson. But every four years, every election is “too critical” to consider other options. As with Chicago Cubs fans, next time never comes.
Let’s look at some truths this time: If the Democrats really wanted to raise the minimum wage in Illinois, they could easily do it today. There is no need for a Nov. 4 referendum. They control all three branches of government, and the polls support doing it now. What they are really saying is, we can and will raise the minimum wage, but re-elect us first. As for black communities, we have not heard of any other policy to help us address substandard schools, economic underdevelopment, and neighborhoods reeling from violence and despair. Of course because we are in the Democratic hip-pocket, no one in either party has to engage us in serious dialogue about our interests. Blacks are 100 percent in the Democratic Party, but they do not lead the party. It has become a dysfunctional relationship.
The truth is, there was a time we talked to both parties. Did you know that African Americans voted consistently for Republicans in the past — from Fredrick Douglass to Rev. Martin Luther King Sr? Did you know that black voters split our tickets to vote a Republican for Cook County State’s Attorney, after a Democratic office holder ordered the raids that killed Fred Hampton and Mark Clark in 1969? Did you know that “affirmative action” for black businesses started with the Nixon administration? Faith leaders, did you know that government support for faith-based social programs started with George W. Bush?
Does all this mean we should support Republicans whose policies are against the interests of our communities? Of course not. But all this does mean that we will have to learn how to play two-party politics in order to win in every election. Groups stuck in one party must win every election to keep from losing. It’s time to get out of the “trick bag.”
Truth is, to support the Democratic status quo in Illinois empowers all-powerful Speaker of the House Mike Madigan, who is also chairman of the state Democratic Party. Some blacks will split our tickets and support some Republicans, and that should be OK. Our community could use having some influence in either party no matter who wins. That is really the direction we need to go in, especially as President Obama winds down his historic presidency. In Illinois, we support and celebrate our beloved President. But it will be time to move on.
Let’s grow up. Let’s have conversations about direction without personal attacks, “Uncle Tom” and “sell out.” Let’s learn from history and chart our own course for the future. At some point, we will need to move from protecting small social programs to casting visions of economic development, opening trade unions to our young people, getting our fair share of contracts, equitable funding for education, and taking on responsibility for self-determination.
With the upcoming non-partisan elections for city government in February 2015, party will be irrelevant. We need to look for a mayor and City Council that will promote and reflect our interests. It’s time to do our own thinking and choose our own leaders without the interference of party politics.
When you look around our desperate communities, you will see why we can’t wait.
Rev. Hatch is pastor of New Mount Pilgrim Church and co-chair of the LEADER’s Network.