The 2009 Elections
On October 6, the NY Times published an alarming and troublesome report on the NY citywide primary runoff races. As the all-important bid for public advocate and comptroller were at stake, most New Yorkers – specifically Democrats – simply stayed home. The piece was a startling look into trends in areas like the 97th Election District of the 79th Assembly District in the Morrisania section of the Bronx where none of the registered Democrats came out to vote. In the end, the paper reported that no votes were recorded throughout dozens of the city’s 6,100 districts. Aside from utterly leaving people flabbergasted, perhaps most importantly, this article was a dire forewarning of things to come.
Last week, the Republican Party tasted a sliver of triumph after winning two gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia. Despite President Obama’s victorious work in garnering the state of Virginia for Democrats in the general election in 2008 for the first time since the days of Lyndon Johnson, last Tuesday, Bob McDonnell walked away with 59% of the vote in that state’s race. And in New Jersey, Chris Christie took some 49% of the vote in a state that hasn’t gone red in 12 years. But unlike what many on the conservative end would like us to believe, this isn’t a referendum on Obama and it isn’t a concerted move for people to ‘take back their country’, but rather it is the chilling result of plain old voter apathy.
The presidential election of 2008 will forever be revered as the year in which we elected our first Black president. But that election year will also be marveled for its historic and unprecedented voter turnout. Inspired and galvanized by incentives for change, young people and people of color cast ballots in record numbers, and many were involved in the process to the point of volunteering and mobilizing on their own. Unfortunately, more than 3 million NJ and VA voters who came out on Election Day 2008 didn’t even bother to show up last week in their statewide races. Not surprisingly, a disproportionate number of those absentee citizens were people of color and young voters – and everyone should be worried about that.
It’s common knowledge that elections, whether they be on a local, state or national level, are almost always about who shows up. About who takes a moment out of their day to venture to a polling station and exercise this most fundamental American right. A constitutional guarantee that for decades was withheld from African Americans and others, voting not only solidifies acceptance in society, but it also allows individuals to voice his or her concerns. It is a basic human right that so many literally fought, bled and died for so that we may actively participate in our own future for years to come. So what happens when so many simply chose to stay home and not engage in the process? How can we complain when we don’t bother to take five minutes of our time to pick leaders that will literally impact massive aspects of our lives? And how can we establish such intense change and progress in 2008, and then slip so easily into regressive behavior a year later?
Electing a Black President was without a doubt a historic feat on many many fronts. But just because we have a Black President, that does not mean we sit back, relax and do nothing. We cannot fall victim to thinking that all of our problems and future hurdles will be resolved because of the history we made in 2008. We must be now, more than ever, actively involved and engaged in the process, for the stakes and challenges are now as complicated as they’ve ever been.
Less than 10% of voters in Virginia’s election last week were under 30, and the number of African Americans were virtually unaccountable. At a time when pertinent issues like health care reform and economic revival rest on the table, we cannot willingly disenfranchise ourselves. For years, we were forcefully left out of the political process; let us not voluntarily do it now.