My distaste for national party politics and its relevance for Blacks in the United States is well-documented. I am skeptical of whether our votes in national elections translate to real advantages/gains for our community.
Everything I learned about political power I learned by watching “The Godfather” I and II and studying Black grassroots activism throughout the last 5 decades.
If I support any politics at all, it is the grassroots version (organizing our community, building independent institutions, radical journalism, protest movements) and local politics like those of the late, great Chokwe Lumumba in Jackson, Mississippi.
For the most part, I believe national elections are a sham – a ritual completely dominated by corporate campaign contributions, military and finance lobbies, and all the senseless patriotism and propaganda one can hope for.
Despite my personal apprehensions however, millions in our community do believe and participate wholeheartedly in Presidential elections. For those of you who do, I simply say, “If you’re going to support someone’s campaign and vote for a candidate, you should be armed with the correct information to help you make informed choices. This article will help you do that.
For too long we’ve given precedence to peripheral candidate criteria like physical attractiveness, humor, speaking ability, party affiliation and even the likability of a candidate’s family!
Party politcs in America is a complex game, for even worthy candidates may have ulterior motives while those of good character may be compromised by corporate coercion or influence. With that in mind, here’s my suggestions:
1. There is no fool-proof method of predicting a candidate’s future behavior, but the best predictor of future performance is one’s past performance. Therefore we must research a candidate’s past policies, legislation, voting record, and speeches. There are websites which record every city, state, and Federal politician’s information in this regard. Check your City Council, State or Congressional website. Votesmart.org is one of the most comprehensive sites in this regard. It provides a detailed biography, legislative record, candidates’ positions on issues, speeches, funding, and ratings. You can enter your zip code and identify your representative.
The Skeleton Closet exposes scandals or questionable activities of U.S. Presidential candidates, though it has yet to include candidates for the 2016 election.
The ACLU posts good content on a variety of civil/human rights issues and usually has a candidate’s guide.
You also have the option of visiting ISidewith. Com. You can take a quiz and on your political beliefs and the site will determine which of the candidates most side with your views.
2. In addition to the first point, you want to know how a candidate stands on specific issues you care about like healthcare, police brutality, employment, education, etc. While listening to speeches is useful, the more accurate indicator of one’s position on issues is reflected in how they’ve voted on the issues, or what legislation they’ve supported or opposed regarding these issues.
3. Politicians generally work hardest for the people/organizations that most support them financially. You must determine the major sources of a candidate’s campaign contributions. People usually contribute to candidates that are relevant to their political agendas. Is the person supported by unions, teachers, pharmaceuticals, or Wall Street? Each of these backers reveals the politics of a candidate and who he or she is most likely to support if elected to office. The website Open Secrets provides a general and financial profile for each Democratic, Republican, and Independent Presidential candidate.
4. Identify a candidate’s past and present political mentors and associates. Birds of a feather flock together, right? Knowing who taught or influenced a candidate provides you with important information from an interpersonal angle.
5. Read what the candidate’s opposition says about he or she. Be familiar with common criticisms of a candidate. Political opposition almost always has negative views about a candidate. But where else are you going to learn about his/her shortcomings, failures and conflicts? There are often kernels of truth hidden in the piles of propaganda spewed by political opposition. Take advantage of this when doing your research.
You will also want to know if what a candidate says is true. This vs be difficult given that every candidate has experts and statisticians on his/her payroll. the Internet makes this task easier. You can research this by visiting FactCheck.org.
If you choose to exercise your right to vote in America, you should do so responsibly. This means you should have the inclination and tools to adequately research candidates’ ideas, history and interests. I’ve provided a very basic framework outlining steps to take toward understanding politicians and making responsible voting choices.
Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In 2013, he wrote The Blueprint: A BSU Handbook, teaching Black student activists how to organize and protest. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-Span, NY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, “The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.”
Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.