What Is the Iowa Caucus to The Black Radical?

Every few years, at election time, I feel very conflicted. I was raised to understand the importance of voting, and more directly, Black people lost their lives for the right for me to do so.

My mother made sure me and my sisters watched Eyes On The Prize on PBS. That documentary chronicled all the different ways Black people in the 1950’s & 60’s organized to fight desegregation (of which protecting/restoring their right to vote unencumbered was a part), and the myriad number of ways white citizens, the states and the federal government were involved in keeping them disenfranchised.

So with a heavy heart full of gratitude and sagging with the debt of my ancestors, I usually find myself treading into some mildewy church basement or pissy school gymnasium to exercise my God-given right pull the lever–an excercise meant to turn the tides of 500 years in one fell swoop.

And so here we are. It’s 2008 and not only can we now vote (mostly), but we have the first viable Black candidate running for president. Barack Obama’s ascendancy to this place, seems rife with all right thoughts of “fulfilling the dream” and “keeping America’s promise,” which has certainly been helped by his PR machine. That’s not to say he’s a phony or a fraud. I have never met him but I do, like most of the people who seem prepared to cast a ballot his way, seem to trust he believes what he says most of the time, which is more than I can say for any of the other frontrunners.

But there are others who feel that this very narrative, the Moses/Jesus/Lincoln/MLK-like prophet come to deliver the people and the nation, is the thing they despise about what he represents most. There are people who feel as though his election will say to the nation and the world, “The US is now beyond race (at least beyond the black & white paradigm). Racism is over. They’ve gotten the Presidency. Now, stop complaining and get to work. Come On, People!”

There are others who feel that he, whose “Black genes” trace most directly to Kenya and not Kentucky, is not Black enough to be even considered the first Black president.

There are more of us, knowing too well that he is Black, who feel he faces the certain and decisive bullet of an assassin if elected.

There are some of us who simply feel the US Presidency will never be a place to transform the United States. Some of us would in fact, rather undo it.

So, if his election may be fraught with such tension, hope, ambivalence or disillusionment for Black people in America, why should I vote? Why should any Black person in America vote?

I don’t honestly know the answer to that question. I don’t know why I do vote most of the time. But I know that there isn’t an easy answer to how the descendants of chattel slaves should position themselves trapped as we are in this strange paradigm. But as much as I feel–in the deepest core of my being–somewhat anxious about Obama and wanting to see him do well, I am under no delusion that his Presidency (nor Clinton nor Edwards nor any of ’em) will save any of us.

And so I will watch the Iowa Caucus tonight, and all the other election broughaha over this year, with a good deal of hopefulness and anxiety, highly skeptical that freedom can ever be found in a ballot box, but knowing full well that budgets, laws, and public policy can shrivel or spread misery.

The choice is yours.

May the ancestors be with us.

3 thoughts on “What Is the Iowa Caucus to The Black Radical?

  1. “the US Presidency will never be a place to transform the United States. Some of us would in fact, rather undo it.”

    Never was there more truth in a simple statement. HOw can you effect change when everything stays the same? I too have been totally disillusioned about the political/electoral process that is supposed to somehow be our salvation. I view the entire election cycle with a ball of hopelessness in the pit of my stomach, becasue I know that there is no chance to carve sanity from an inherently insane system. Yet the best and brightest of us seem totally married to the concept of voting as our vehicle to empowerment, despite decades of evidence to the contrary.

    I don’t know if I’ll be able to drag myself to the polls to participate in this season’s fiasco. I don’t feel like my vote counts, and I know they don’t have to count it if they don’t want to, so it seems an exercise in futility. I’m not the type to take part in such foolishness. I have endoresed Barak, and for similar reasons as yourself, and I already fear for his life, especially after this “win” in the Iowa Caucus will make Barak seem even more viable a candidate. I can just see the crazies out there oiling up their sniper rifles and polishing up those long range scopes.

    Like Sam Cooke said, a change is gonna come. I hold out hope that it will be a change for the better.

  2. Why write about how you are convinced that there is no hope in the system, especially when you suggest other means in which there is hope? Write about those means; act on them!

    While we know that “his election may be fraught with such tension, hope, ambivalence or disillusionment for Black people in America,” since when has tension, hope, ambivalence or disillusionment been reasons not to vote. And especially why should they be particularly reasons why black people should not vote. How does that raise anybody up? Simply because voting and our current system isn’t working is no reason why we shouldn’t do vote, yes, and then throw our selves into those efforts that are, in fact, effective. The agony ought not to be directed at voting but how best we can address those responsibilities we have to our local, national, and international communities to improve them.

    You said it best yourself. While we may be “skeptical that freedom can ever be found in a ballot box, but knowing full well that budgets, laws, and public policy can shrivel or spread misery.” If we are talking about eyes on the prize lets not get hung up on voting and focus on the fact that “budgets, laws, and public policy can shrivel or spread misery.”

    And to address the previous poster: “I don’t feel like my vote counts, and I know they don’t have to count it if they don’t want to, so it seems an exercise in futility.” It doesn’t matter what you feel. Unless there is evidence that your vote doesn’t count (which may admittedly be hidden) there is no basis for that lament.

  3. Pingback: A Change Gonna Come? « where i’m from

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