By Lawrence Grandpre
And Dayvon Love
Here’s the scenario.
The Republicans have nominated a man, as its Presidential candidate, whose war-mongering rhetoric has many convinced that his election would risk global catastrophe. The United States has recently been rocked by racial unrest and strife that have shaken the nation to its core. Many Black organizers and activists have organized for years, only to find the national Democratic Party ignoring, belittling, or even actively working against them. Yet they are told their failure to accept a compromised position and support the Democratic Presidential nominee risks the fundamental undermining of the Civil Rights struggle and may potentially empower a new breed of American fascism.
Many would be surprised that this scenario applied as much in 1964 as it does today. In many ways, Barry Goldwater – the war mongering 1964 Republican nominee – was in many ways a Donald Trump like figure. He was recognized widely as an overt advocate of white supremacy. In response, the institutional left, the Democratic Party, and the Civil Rights establishment were strong supporters of the election of President Lyndon B. Johnson. However, at the Democratic National Convention of 1964, there was a strategic refusal to seat Black delegates. Fannie Lou Hamer and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) organized to seat delegates that were democratically selected by the community. The Democratic Party establishment was so fearful of Fannie Lou Hamer and MFDP that President Johnson held a press conference during her testimony to ensure that her message did not upset the white supremacist infrastructure of the Democratic Party.
Yet Fannie Lou Hamer was no ordinary Democrat. Raised by sharecroppers, she helped organize the MFDP in protest of the local Democratic Party’s exclusion of Black voters. By demanding the seating of the MFDP delegation at the 1964 Democratic convention, she took a stand against the Democratic Party’s denigration of the right of Black folk to self-determine their own political futures. Faced with a decision to accept the compromised position of having only two MFDP representatives seated, as promoted by Adam Clayton Powell and other top Democrats; the MFDP delegation collectively chose to walk out of the Democratic National Convention.
They literally turned their backs on the presidential politics of the Democratic Party in favor of
building power locally.
Unfortunately, in increasing conversations about Black people choosing not to vote for President this election cycle, this history is usually ignored or obscured. The intellectual laziness of our corporate media has presented a limited view of the way to think about the presidential election. Our discourse has been reduced to the frame of “Clinton or Trump” or the “lesser of two evils”.
Ever since the Republican “southern strategy” branded the GOP as the party of white racists, the Democratic Party has taken the Black vote for granted. Democrats have chosen symbolic affirmation of Black issues rather than genuine Black community empowerment because of their anxiety about the notion of Black self-determination. Juxtaposing the actions taken by Hillary Clinton around the Black community with those of Fannie Lou Hamer demonstrates this distinction. Fannie Lou Hamer was against “urban renewal” policies which displaced black city dwellers, and promoted Black run cooperatives farms (including a literal “piggy bank” where black families got access to pigs to breed and sell). In contrast, Clinton’s vision of Black advancement centers on integrating African-Americans into the corporate mainstream; which is a strategy proven to allow a small sliver of Blacks to get access to privilege while leaving the Black masses to languish. Case in point: Clinton’s foundation has incubated a neoliberal political regime that has created a decades-long exploitative relationship with Haiti.
The question of refusing to vote for President is often seen as young people wanting to perform political protest out of a naive desire for political purity. The reality is far more complex! We propose two counter questions to reframe the idea of whether a Presidential candidate is worthy of the Black community’s vote.
1st – Using Black community control and self-determination as a framework, what good can Black communities actually expect in exchange for their vote?
2nd – Given a contextual relationship to the Black Radical Tradition, is the candidate someone Fannie Lou Hamer could support?
Given all the reasons previously stated, it appears that in the case of Hillary Clinton the answers are “little to nothing” and “certainly not”. Thus, in the spirit of Fannie Lou Hamer, we want to present a strategy of significantly engaging this election in a way that forces the two party system to be more accountable to Black people. Such a strategy could potentially lay the groundwork for the development of a viable multi-party political system.
Black voters need to qualify their support for Democratic party candidates, starting with, in strategic states, leaving the ballot for president blank or voting for a third party candidate in 2016.
It’s time for Black voters to transition from being capital D Democrats, loyal operative of a political party that never loved us, to lowercase d democrats, more interested in genuine democracy than a particular political party.
Our election is not decided by a popular vote, but rather by the electoral vote. This means that when a nominee wins a state, all of its votes go to that candidate. Maryland is a Democratic Party stronghold. However, in states that are solidly blue or solidly red, voting for a third party will affect the delegates that will be sent to the 2020 Democratic convention. This will also make the Democratic Party work harder to stop its current hemorrhaging which presents a huge liability for the Democrats when looking forward to the next presidential election. This will also lay the groundwork for the development of strong Third party alternatives.
If you are in swings states such as Nevada, Colorado, Florida, Ohio, or North Carolina; it makes sense to cast a ballot for Hillary Clinton as a strategic vote. But for all other U.S. states, and if you are truly interested in social transformation and Black Liberation, you should either leave that part of the ballot blank or vote for anyone but Clinton and Trump.
A month ago, when we saw the need for writing this piece, the election, at least on its face, appeared to be close. Now with Clinton’s increasing poll number, largely fueled by moderate white Republicans and Independents turned off by Trump, she seems to be headed towards a runaway victory. It is more important now, more than ever, that the Black community has leverage over the Democrats to prevent Clinton from governing from the center to appease her moderate base.
We are NOT advocating that Black folk not vote at all. Rather we advocate for just the opposite. Fannie Lou Hamer and the MFDP continued to run candidates down ballot and push for even more representation. Similarly, we argue that the majority of decisions that impact the everyday life of individuals are decided by city and state officials. As such, these races should be lifted up as a more central political focus. These races are often drowned out by the intensive focus on the presidential election. Our recommended strategy is designed to facilitate more effective voting and not the removal of the electoral tool from the tool box.
Along these lines, after we give our public talk on Saturday, October 29th on the importance of strategic (non) voting, Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle will hold a technical training to teach voting advocates how to use unique texting tools to influence down-ballot races. The election of the office of State Attorney, for example, is a down ballot race and is an elected position critical to issues such as police accountability and criminal justice. Again, these races are consistently drowned out by the constant “Trump v. Clinton” horse race discourse.
Many don’t know that when Fannie Lou Hamer uttered her famous phrase: “I’m sick and tired and being sick and tired”; she was mostly talking about her exasperation with the Democratic party, their racist behavior in Mississippi and their failure to seat the MFDP at the 1964 convention. It is important that the legacy of Fannie Lou Hamer and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party be uplifted to show the barriers to freedom and liberation the National Democratic Party often covertly yields.
Often the legacy of civil rights is contorted in ways that ultimately further serve the political status quo. “Our forefather weren’t beaten in the streets,” the argument goes, “for Black people to not vote”. Invoking the legacy of Fannie Lou Hamer is important to correct this oversimplification. Hamer was beaten in a jail cell, abused, and degraded as a result of her fight for the right to vote. However, when it came down to making a decision based on her principles , Hamer chose to turn her back, not on the election process as a whole, but on the notion that compromising self-determination in the name of a Democratic presidency. Hamer was a true manifestation of one’s commitment to Black freedom struggle.
By turning their backs in New Jersey, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party was better able to straighten the backs of Black Mississippians. Now more than ever, their example should be used to communicate an important truth; strategically denying the Democrats Black support is the exact opposite of “betraying the legacy of our ancestor’s struggle”. Rather it serves as an expression and commitment to their true ideal, genuine freedom and self-determination for Black people.