Thursday, February 18, 2016

Tariq Nasheed's Don't Vote Campaign Equals Black Voter Suppression

Ahead of the South Carolina primaries, author and film maker Tariq Nasheed wrote an article entitled Why Black People Should Not Vote In The 2016 Presidential Election. The article promotes an anti-voting campaign called #Don'tVote. His article is misguided, deeply flawed, problematic and irresponsible.

In his article, Nasheed asserts that "many Black Americans are disheartened by president Barack Obama's hateful neglect of issues plaguing the Black society." Nasheed claims that "this has caused many Black people to be disheartened by the election process in general."

President Obama has not "hatefully" neglected the black community. Obama promoted policies and took action that directly benefited the black community. For instance, he launched the Brother's Keeper Program, issued an executive order establishing the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, passed the Fair Sentencing Act, defended the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, defended affirmative action in Fisher v. the University of Texas, re-energized the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, sued the discriminatory Ferguson Police Department and entered a consent decree with the Cleveland Police Department. Although one can argue that President Obama has not done enough to address the problems plaguing Black America, it is a gross exaggeration to accuse the President of "hateful neglect." Furthermore, Nasheed's analysis fails to consider Republican obstructionism which prevented Obama passing other potentially beneficial legislation like the Jobs Bill.

It is naive for anyone to expect one black man to miraculously solve America's 400 year-old race problem. Instead of waiting on Obama to walk on water, part the Red Sea and raise the dead, the African American community should have put greater pressure on the President. Rather than doing so, many public intellectuals like Michael Eric Dyson and activists like Reverend Al Sharpton sold out for access and proximity to power. As result, we are, at the very last, partially to blame for the President's failure adequately address lingering problems haunting Black America. Our failure to hold elected officials is not a sound basis for deciding not to vote. Instead of merely voting, we must present an agenda, demand support, vote for supportive candidates and hold them accountable.

Tariq Nasheed's second argument emphasizes that "Presidents selected by the Electoral College, not the popular vote." He further claims that participation in electoral process is imperative to prevent the people from rebelling against the power structure.

The mere existence of the Electoral College is not a legitimate reason not to vote. As everyone learns in middle school, the American people indirectly elect the President and Vice President. As noted in the Huffington Post article titled What is the Electoral College? How It Works and Why It Matters, for most states, the Presidential "candidate who wins the majority of votes in a state wins the state's electoral votes." The article notes that "electoral votes are assigned by proportional representation" in Nebraska and Maine. In other words, when we vote, we are "voting for our candidate's electors."

The electors pledge to vote for their parties' nominees. As stated in the Huffington Post article, "twenty-seven states have laws requiring electors to vote for their party's candidate if that candidate get a majority of the state's popular vote." In the other states, it is still "common practice for electors to vote for their party's nominee." As stated on U.S. Electoral College website, "more 99 percent of Electors have voted as pledged." Wikipedia states that "faithless electors have not changed the outcome of any presidential election to date." In sum, through the popular vote in each state, we indirectly elect the President and Vice President. The suggestion that our votes do not matter is just false. The Bush-Gore election of 2000 is a major reminder of how very important our votes are. Again, the existence of the Electoral College is not valid reason not to vote.

Nasheed's third argument against voting is that the Democratic Party and the Republican Party are two faces of the same coin. Essentially, he is implying that the parties are the same. To prove that Democratic Party is just as racist as the Republican Party, Nasheed cites examples of Democratic prosecutors failing to prosecute various police brutality cases. Rather than substantiating his fundamental argument that black should not vote, such examples illustrate how precious and valuable our vote actually is.

Clearly, one should not select a candidate based solely on his or her party affiliation. We must select candidates based on their positions on important issues. In many jurisdictions, prosecutors are elected by the voters. If the citizens voted for other prosecutors who were truly committed to eliminating police brutality, perhaps, there would be different outcomes in the Michael Brown and Tamir Rice cases. Perhaps, a different Chicago prosecutor would have promptly filed charges against the officer who allegedly killed LaQuan McDonald.

Contrary to Nasheed's simple analysis, the two major parties are not essentially the same. Although there are some similarities on some foreign policy issues, the parties have conflicting views on affirmative action, criminal justice reform, police brutality, immigration, abortion, taxes, social programs, Wall Street, voting rights, workers' rights, health care, campaign finance reform and other issues. The difference is further demonstrated by mere fact that Republican leaders and candidates, including Donald Trump, seek to have another staunch conservative justice fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court. They want to appoint more judges and justices like Antonin Scalia, a deceased Supreme Court Justice who said that African Americans should go to "slower track" schools and that maybe the University of Texas should not attempt admit as many African Americans as possible. The Republican want to usurp President Obama's constitutional power and wait for the next President to appoint a new justice.

On the other hand, the Democrats want the President to exercise his constitutional power and appoint a progressive justice. Without doubt, just based on the power to appoint justices and judges, African Americans would be worst off with Trump or any other one of the Republican candidates in the White House. Such judges regularly decide cases that directly determine our constitutional and human rights.

Even if one does not support either major party, one should, at least, vote for a third party candidate. Buried at the end of his article in one sentence, Nasheed writes, "If Black people choose to vote, they should vote independent." That sentence contradicts and dismantles the feeble premise of his entire article.

Nasheed's final argument is that Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders "have not committed to actually doing anything for Black people." Contrary to Nasheed's claim, a simple review of the candidates' websites reveals that both candidates have committed to actually doing things for black people. Sanders' website and Hillary Clinton's website outline their plans for addressing police brutality, voting rights, mass incarceration, racial profiling, education, economic disparities and environmental racism. Apparently, Nasheed failed to conduct any basic research before he wrote his article.

Next, Nasheed basically asserts that black people should not vote for Sanders because Sanders does not support reparations. Reparations is an important issue. We should pressure all candidates and political parties to support H.R. 40. However, upon further reflection, we cannot base our decision solely on that one issue. There is a myriad of other urgent issues, such as police brutality, poverty, unemployment, failing schools, mass incarceration and inner city violence, that must be addressed. Moreover, Nasheed rightfully criticizes the Clinton for policies that led to the black mass incarceration.  If we elected a more progressive President at the time, maybe there would no 1994 crime bill. That is yet another illustration of the importance of voting.

In conclusion, as previously explained, Nasheed's reasons for not voting are weak. His article is irresponsible and reckless. It is one thing to demand that politicians fight to earn our vote. It is quite another thing to support a ridiculous Don't Vote Campaign. When a group withdraws from the political process, the politicians have no incentive to address that group's interests.

The Don't Vote will not empower the black community. It will only empower Donald Trump and the rest of the rabid right wing opposition. Such a campaign promotes the voluntary suppression of the black vote. The extreme Right does not need to implement voter ID laws, eliminateof early voting or purge voters as long as we have misguided people like Tariq Nasheed encouraging gullible black people not to vote. His self-defeating campaign is a slap in the face of the black elders and ancestors who fought, bled and died for our right to vote. Instead of discouraging our people, we need to encourage them.  We must encourage voter education, voter registration and voter participation. There is too much at stake for us to sit on the sidelines waiting for some distant, elusive and imaginary rebellion to occur.