By James Clingman
Booker T. Washington spoke those words in his best effort to show us what is really happening in this country. He tried to convince us to stay focused on the money-side of things, and he admonished us not to immerse ourselves in the political whirlpool and abandon our economic resources. As I look at the upcoming election, and as I have written since the Florida election debacle in 2000, all I can sadly say is, “Sorry, Brother Booker; we did not listen to you.”
Once again, this is the “most important election of our time” and we are gearing up for the fight. We must register to vote, once again, because our people “died for the right” to do so. We must come out as we have never come out before, you know, like we did in 2000, because 2016 is the “most critical election of our lifetime” – again. Black folks are so hyped about this election, irrespective of not hearing very much about how Black people, specifically, will be positively affected by the outcome.
Our leaders tell us – again – that Black folks have the “power” to sway the election in either direction. The question is: If we have that kind of power, why aren’t we using it to get a few concessions for ourselves? Why aren’t we forming an independent political party and leveraging our “power” for a quid pro quo? We may have the power to swing the vote, but it doesn’t seem to matter. I suppose a better way to say it is that Democrats need the power of the Black vote to win, but Republicans only needed one Black vote in 2000 to win: Clarence Thomas’ vote.
This political game, at least the way we are playing it, is one that keeps our attention on the symbolism rather than the substance beneath it all. We have had decades to get our act together. Didn’t we see what happened in 2000? Why did our political leaders go back to sleep after they yelled, screamed, and ranted about the Presidential Selection? Between the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections millions of dollars were made on computerized voting machines. Deals were made to open new offices in counties where their systems were purchased and backroom deals such as discounts on software upgrades were consummated.
What was the response from Black political leaders, other than hand wringing and catchy voting slogans, regarding the irregularities of that time period? It sure wasn’t an endorsement of Black accountant and auditor, Athan Gibbs, and his TruVote System, which had real built-in protection against vote tampering, and provided a paper receipt for auditing purposes. Before his very suspicious death in Nashville, Tenn., in March 2004, Athan traipsed across this country trying to get his system endorsed and ultimately utilized in the national election; his system was successfully tested by organizations and other verifiable sources, but other than Cynthia McKinney, Black political leaders by and large did not support a Black man’s invention that would prevent what they constantly complained about: the disenfranchisement of Black voters. Registering and voting were not the biggest problems in 2000; it was votes not being counted, votes being thrown out, and eligible voters being denied the right to vote.
I had many conversations with Athan and worked to get Ohio to purchase his TruVote by introducing him to then Secretary of State Ken Blackwell but to no avail. Athan was killed; and one headline read, “Athan Gibbs dead, Diebold lives.” We failed to listen to Booker T., and we failed to listen to Athan Gibbs when he told us how to overcome the voting shenanigans of 2000. Moreover, had we supported TruVote, millions of dollars would have flowed into a Black-owned company. Maybe this time we will learn once and for all that politics is all about money, power, and maintaining status quo. I sure hope so, because right now Black people are losing on all three fronts.
Jim Clingman, founder of the Greater Cincinnati African-American Chamber of Commerce, is the nation’s most prolific writer on economic empowerment for Black people. He can be reached through his website, Blackonomics.com. He is the author of Black Dollars Matter: Teach Your Dollars How to Make More Sense, which is available through his website; professionalpublishinghouse.com and Amazon Kindle eBooks.