As I watched President Barack Obama give his farewell address to the Democratic faithful in Philadelphia, the moment brought me back to the night in Boston in 2004 when he made his debut on the national stage. His gracefulness and eloquence was on display then and Wednesday night as he made the case for the election of Hillary Clinton and dissected her opponent, Republican Donald Trump, with the skill of a surgeon. Had it not been for the video montage that was shown prior to him taking the stage, it would be easy to forget that eight years had elapsed so quickly.
For me the most important line he delivered in his speech had absolutely nothing to do with Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, or getting a Democrat elected as president. It was his civic lesson in which he reminded us of the critical importance of state and local offices, and challenged the delegates to hold the Democrats they elect accountable. There was a coded message in there; a veiled reference to what this president has observed over the course of his two terms and the frustrations he experienced with his own party. He didn’t have to say what he did or acknowledge the organizational prowess of the Bernie Sanders campaign. While he painted a rosy picture of the future of the Democratic Party, he also gave a short-term forecast for anyone who was really listening.
I think this president knows full well the shortcomings of his own party, and the rough road that lays ahead. The fault lines were evident this week when the Democratic National Committee was exposed for playing favorites, the party chair given the boot, and legions of Sanders supporters who loudly voiced their displeasure with the process and the nominee. While party loyalists and the Clinton faithful project an air of confidence underpinned by fear, the president seems to have let the cat out the bag. Democrats had better clean up their house or face the prospect of looking at the White House from the outside looking in.
Now that Hillary Clinton has been formally nominated as the presidential candidate of the Democratic Party, making history as the first woman nominee for one of the primary parties, and Donald Trump as the Republican nominee, and other lesser known parties nominating their candidates – the race to the White House really begins. If this is truly the critical election everyone claims then we need to approach it critically, and control our emotional impulses. If we follow President Obama’s call, the electorate must develop some accountability measures to secure some leverage over the eventual victor in November. This is particularly true for the Black electorate as our votes are so stacked in support of the Democratic nominee that the party has little reason to be responsive, knowing that option B is not a viable choice for the masses and partisan allegiance obstructs our view of alternate party options.
So, how does this accountability work and what does it look like? For starters, Black voters need to go down the supply chain and make certain their state and congressional representatives are not simply being partisan cheerleaders but seeking substantive plans from the nominee on the critical issues facing our community. We also need to better use institutional filters like the National Bar Association (justice system), the Legal Defense Fund (civil rights), the National Urban League (economic justice), the National Black MBA Association (business) and others to critique the nominee’s policy positions. While at the same time holding these organizations accountable to be fair and nonpartisan arbiters of public policy. At the same time, we must vote down ballot in November, and not forget the greatest day-to-day impact on our lives is the actions of governors, state legislators, county and municipal elected officials. It’s a move away from voting by default or seduction.
In just three decades, people of color will be the majority in America. The ‘minority’ frame we have used to define our engagement with the nation’s political system and the world has outlived its usefulness. To wield power, we are going to have to recognize our own power. It means casting votes not with hopefulness but with certainty that the needs of our community will be addressed. It will require a different political demeanor, an expectation for reciprocity and a willingness to punish if promises are broken, our support is betrayed or those we elect become non-responsive. What must also occur is a redefinition of our relationship with our elected officials, ceasing the celebrity worship, engaging all political parties and liberating our votes to build a voting bloc only captive to the interests of our community.
This election serves as a first-step in building an accountability mindset. We have one major party confident it has to put forth minimal effort to secure our votes. The other is putting forth a candidate that gives Black voters no option except to reject him. We stand to be bystanders no matter who is elected if we don’t articulate a policy framework consistent with our humanity.
Walter Fields is Executive Editor of NorthStarNews.com.