Call it a lesson in the power of righteous indignation.
According to the Pew Research Center, black voter turnout may have topped the turnout rate for whites during the 2012 presidential election.
For the first time ever.
In 2008, the rate of black people turning out almost equaled that of whites – no doubt because many didn’t want to miss the chance to cast their vote for the nation’s first black president.
But this time, it appears that black people couldn’t wait to vote to re-elect President Obama – mostly because so many white people were trying to stop them from doing so.
In many states, Republican-dominated legislatures passed laws to cut early voting days and voting hours, and also imposed cumbersome rules on third-party groups, such as the League of Women Voters, in registering voters. Some also passed laws requiring voters to obtain identification that would require old, hard-to-obtain documentation – a move that would have disenfranchised some elderly voters and transient voters.
And let’s not forget True The Vote – a collection of Tea Party trash talkers who vowed to monitor polls and intimidate minority voters, particularly Latinos and food stamp recipients, into thinking they were seeing the police in their rear view mirror if they attempted to vote.
But as Pew’s findings show, black people apparently didn’t shy away from the polls. Instead, they packed them.
“The perception that ‘people don’t want you to vote,’ motivated many blacks, particularly young people, to turn out,” Chanelle Hardy, executive director of the National Urban League, said at a panel discussion that was reported by the Los Angeles Times.
In other words, black people didn’t succumb to low expectations about being discouraged by the intimidation and the attempts to scare them into not using their voices.
They got angry, and directed that anger in a place that mattered – that place being the voting booth.
That’s good. We just need to keep it up – and get mad enough to change some other things that continue to keep us from not being at our best.
For starters, I’d like to see a number of black folks – especially young black males – get so angry at the fact that for-profit prison companies have found a way to become wealthy by capitalizing on their criminality that they vow to stop becoming loyal customers of the criminal justice system.
I’d like to see them save the anger at the person who slighted or disrespected them for the prison profiteers who are waiting to make money off them the minute they shoot, stab or otherwise assault whoever insulted them.
I’d like to see young black people get ticked off at their peers or anyone else, for that matter, who believe that education is only something that whites can succeed at – an idea that will keep them stuck at the bottom rungs of society either in low-wage jobs or dependency on the system, or worse, in and out of an incarceration system designed to profit off their own low expectations.
I’d also like to see us be bold enough to demand more from the Obama administration. Many black people understood that he couldn’t exactly morph into H. Rap Brown during his first term, but were it not for black voters – especially those in Ohio and the ones who waited until the wee morning hours to vote in Florida – Obama would be headed back to Chicago this month.
So we shouldn’t be timid about pressing him in addressing our issues – namely unemployment and education – and he shouldn’t shy away from addressing them.
It’s been said that one of the enduring lessons of the 2012 presidential election was the changing demographics, especially when it came to the rise of the Latino vote. But another lesson of that election that the Pew research reveals, or for me, at least reinforces, is that black people still wield significant power at the ballot box.
It also tells me that if we can channel our anger to control our political destinies – something that we need to repeat during the 2014 midterm elections – we can also find a way to direct our angst toward controlling our economic and educational destinies, too.
And this year is as good a time as ever to start doing that.
Tonyaa Weathersbee is an award-winning columnist who is based in Jacksonville, Fla. Follow her at tonyaajw@twitter. Or visit her webpage and blog, “Tonyaa’s Take,” at www.tonyaajweathersbee.com.