In many ways, I fit the profile of those considered most likely to vote. College educated. In my early fifties. African American and born in the South. Well read and traveled. A regular listener of C-SPAN radio, who also watches political movies and attends conferences focusing on the needs of the disenfranchised. I even worked on the first Senate campaign of Louisiana Sen. Mary L. Landrieu.
Some would call me a political junkie.
So it is sure to strike many as heretical that I have absolutely no intention of voting in the Nov. 2 presidential elections. I am proud to say that I have been registered since I turned 18, when the vestiges of voter discrimination were very much alive in my home state of Louisiana. Yet I have rarely voted in local or national elections unless I have seen a clear issue or a candidate who reflects my concerns.
Those of us who choose not to vote are rarely given the opportunity to discuss this option. We are routinely dismissed as uninformed or just plain stupid. The venom leveled against us ironically prevents those who do plan to vote from thinking critically about what going to the ballot box actually means. Although I can't speak for others, after looking at the presidential voting process, I've concluded that there is little to vote for. It isn't apathy driving me away from the polling places, but passion of a different sort.
One of the most vociferous cries raised against African Americans who consider the possibility of not voting is: People died for your right to vote. I've concluded that this is only partially true. It is correct that the civil rights establishment championed the right to vote, but what has been forgotten is that there was no consensus within that movement about the way to promote the advancement of African Americans. The SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) and the black power movement sought to change the fundamental power dynamic in this country, not simply to win the right to vote. How then did electoral politics get pushed to the top of the African American agenda? It was with the rise of black elected officials and the emergence of a privileged black community (who, by the way, had the most to gain) that the unthinking mantra developed.
In the black community today, voting is associated with everything that is good; it is not seen as one course of action among many. Over the years, I have found other ways of expressing my commitment to advancing the lot of fellow African Americans: by running writing seminars and conducting reading groups; by holding gatherings to discuss the meaning of African American history and our cultural festivals.
Is there anybody to vote for? President Bush was correct when he spoke before the National Urban League and suggested that Democrats take the black vote for granted. Oh, the Democrats have done a good job of persuading African Americans that they are our "friends." But with friends like these, there is no need for enemies. With Democrats believing they have blacks in their pocket, they fail to put a high priority on our concerns and thus fall short as an affirmative choice.
As for the Republicans, their lack of concern for the interests of the poor and their neglect of black issues disqualify them for my vote. Sen. Trent Lott's apparent nostalgia for racial segregation in his endorsement of his colleague Strom Thurmond's career was hardly auspicious. His successor as majority leader doesn't strike me as much better. Sen. Bill Frist has voted to end affirmative action in the government's funding of small businesses, and in 2000 he voted against the enactment of federal hate crime laws.
What about the notion of voting for the "lesser of two evils"? I would ask, is it really the lesser of two evils or the flip side of the same coin? If you take a look at the Center for Responsive Politics' contributions lists and correlate the contributions to both major political parties, it is hard to discern the "good guys" from the "bad guys." The power of money has corrupted the entire electoral process.
One of the most telling points is the effort both parties put into blocking alternative candidates. In my ninth-grade civics class at McKinley Senior High School in Baton Rouge, La., we were taught that, in a democracy, people have choices. Can parties that spend so much time suppressing choice actually be about the promotion of democracy? In the last presidential election, I voted for Ralph Nader -- a man who is perceived as a threat by Democrats rather than as providing another choice for voters.
I for one shall simply be happy when the entire ritual is over, and the smiles, baby kissing, attack ads and pledges yield to politics as usual. Then we'll resign ourselves to having the best political leader that money can buy.
Author's e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org