October 21, 2011

Last month, Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain created waves with his response to CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer’s question about his ability to attract blacks to the Republican Party. Blitzer asked why the GOP is seen as “poison for African Americans.” Cain responded, “Many African Americans have been brainwashed into not being open-minded.” I believe that the problem is much deeper and more systemic than that. I believe that most Americans attach themselves to a particular party and lose sight of the fact that all political parties belong to the people.

That certainly appears to be the case in the District. For 40 years, since the District achieved home rule, its government has been led by Democrats. But what has a purely Democratic agenda delivered for the city and its African Americans?

African Americans in the District have made tremendous progress over the years. We have gained high-level positions in government and organizing, and we effectively manage nonprofits that have built communities. But with these achievements have come some enormous costs. The greed and corruption of legacy politics have become entrenched. We have allowed a privileged few to act as kingmakers, crowning as a result generations of lackluster politicians who seem not to have the District’s best interests at heart.

These politicians have consistently spent more money to educate our children but have consistently failed to provide a quality education. We’ve entrusted them with bringing jobs and businesses to the city, but they have continually neglected Wards 7 and 8, where unemployment rates have long been at inexcusable levels. They have declared war on poverty in our neighborhoods, introducing “new and improved” programs. But still Ward 8 has a poverty rate of 35 percent.

The question remains: Who is leading our residents on a path to prosperity?

A lack of political balance has created an alarming trend in our city. With only one cookie-cutter template from which to bring about change, we have created a local political class who all think, act and support the same platform. We seem to be afraid to change the status quo. We support corrupt leadership and blame the messengers who expose the truth, rather than facing facts and withdrawing our support.

It doesn’t have to be this way. I see real opportunity for the District and all of its residents to bring about the changes that have eluded us for so long. That is why I am running to become the next D.C. Council member to represent Ward 7. That is why I am running as a Civil Rights Republican.

Those who question my association with the Republican Party should look back on what it means to be a Civil Rights Republican. The fact is that African Americans have played a considerable role in shaping both major parties. Neither party has been perfect, but our involvement in each has brought about positive outcomes — for us as a people and for our country. Booker T. Washington and Frederick Douglass were Republicans. In 1870, when Thomas Mundy Peterson became the first African American to vote under the 15th Amendment, he did so as a Republican.

During the civil rights era, African Americans changed their allegiance when they saw the Democratic Party embrace their struggle for socioeconomic enfranchisement. (I doubt Peterson could have imagined an African American reaching the pinnacle of U.S. politics as a Democrat.) But it is time for this chapter to draw to a close. Our blind support for Democrats has left Washington politically stagnant. Our inability to secure voting representation in Congress, for instance, can be partially attributed to the lack of a balanced political spectrum in our city. If Republicans in Congress could count on a healthy debate in our halls of government, perhaps they would have less opposition to passing D.C. statehood legislation.

In the early 1900s, two thriving African American communities — Greenwood, Okla., (known as “Black Wall Street”) and Rosewood, Fla. — were built upon Republican principles of strong family values, free enterprise and property ownership. Ultimately, both would be destroyed by the Ku Klux Klan — the terrorist arm of the Jim Crow Democratic Party. Now that we have some measure of political and economic success, I believe we can turn away from cycles of political and economic dependency and rekindle the spirit of Rosewood and “Black Wall Street.” We can be the masters of our own destiny, rebuilding and strengthening our communities. By applying traditional Republican views, such as entrepreneurship, self-reliance and individual responsibility, many overlooked African Americans will find a real and successful way forward.

If our history of fighting for civil rights has taught us anything, it’s that you don’t have a positive effect on a society or a political party by sitting on the sidelines. You must become an active citizen and a formidable participant. My many years of community organizing have taught me that.

African Americans are not and have never been monolithic. Putting all of our eggs in one basket has left us powerless and vulnerable. Those who stood up and sacrificed to give us the rights we enjoy today would be marching right alongside of us to demand fair representation and change in the Ward 7 and accountability in the John Wilson Building. Come join the march for economic freedom. Come join the Civil Rights Republicans.

The writer is a candidate for D.C. Council in Ward 7. From 2004 to 2009, he was the chief operating officer of the nonprofit group Peaceaholics.