By Kirk Clay
My Way Or the Highway Politicians
As Super Tuesday becomes the focal point of this election season. As speculation continues over whether the GOP will have a clear front runner by next Wednesday, my attention turns toward Georgia. Not because of the obvious reasons, but because of what the proverbial “Promised Land” represents for Voters of Color (VOC). Although 2010 census data shows that Atlanta only grew 0.8% to 420,003, neighboring Athens-Clark County grew by 15% to 116,714. This significant growth helped to give Georgia a new congressional seat plus an extra Electoral College vote.
I remember my first trip to Atlanta. I was recruited by one of the ministers who founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). He asked that I help to manage a “whistle stop” caravan through the Deep South and wanted me to join him in Atlanta for the launch of this effort. This was an experience of a lifetime and my first multi-state bus tour. Being a twenty something organizer from the Midwest, I often wondered what caused him to take me under his wing.
I will never forget how nervous I was running through the Atlanta airport having arrived close to midnight. You see, my flight was held over because of the weather and in those days I had no way to get word to the team that I would be six hours late. To my surprise, officials were waiting for me to land and whisked me through the airport to the ground transportation area. When I got there, I was surprised to see five American made SUVs sitting in the airport driveway.
With the doors open and his feet on the dashboard he sputtered “Don’t just stand there, get in. We have to make it to the Mississippi Delta by sunrise.” Of course, that’s exactly what I did. We traveled all night to make up for lost time. We only stopped for gas and a hot meal. His amazing network of restaurants and gas stations opened their kitchens along the way.
Although we didn’t have a chance to talk about the fact that he held up the entire campaign that night, I eventually mustered up enough courage to apologize, saying “I’m sorry, for causing such a fuss at the airport. What can I do to make things right?” He took a deep breath: “Well,” he said decisively, “we in the movement, promised to never leave anyone behind, and everyone is important to the movement.”
I wish our Congressional leaders had the same spirit of duty and responsibility to every person in this country. I wish they would remain focused and committed to serving the needs of Americans. After the surprise announcement that one of the most moderate members of the Senate will retire, it’s sad to say that I fear the roadblocks to recovery may remain in place all year.
Look at their economic policy work. So far it seems to emphasize obstruction more than cooperation. What’s more, their priorities do not reflect the reality of our deliberate economic resurgence. They seem to believe that backsliding on women’s healthcare, higher education, and middle class safety nets are must do fiscal treatments. They ignore what most experts have acknowledged for years that “at the end of the day investing in the economy is good for the economy.”
However, Voters of Color (VOC) in places like Georgia are becoming energized. In fact, the political landscape resembles that of November 3, 1998 where the hyper-partisan nature motivated communities of color to demonstrate their concerns through the power of the vote. In 1998 Voters of Color were 30% of the vote share. Progressive candidates won the governorship, retained control of both houses of the legislature, and candidates of color made significant gains.
As history has shown, Voters of Color can make a difference in the outcome of elections. For example, VOC in Georgia make up close to 35% of the citizen voting age population and most of those registered voted in 2008. In fact, POC made up 34% of the vote share in the 2008 general election. This number increased to 35% in 2010, a Tea Party wave year. The potential impact would be significant in 2012 if every eligible Voter of Color voted. Especially in cities like Atlanta and Athens-Clark County where there are over 230,000 “Key” Voters of Color combined.
This takes me back to my lessons learned during my first visit to Atlanta. That experience helped me to understand how important it is for everyone— Whites, Latinos, African Americans, Asians, and Native Americans—to work within an all-inclusive cooperative environment. 2012 is a critical moment for our nation as we remain committed to ensuring that our democracy leaves no one behind. Organizations and institutions within our communities must embrace a diverse and energetic approach to political enfranchisement. That’s popping the clutch.
Kirk Clay is Senior Advisor at PowerPAC