Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Keep Votes Alive: Ballots, Birthrights, and Believers

by Elizabeth Desnoyers-Colas
R3 Blogger

In class rooms all over the country educators like me yearn for their students to grasp and lay hold of the empirical nuggets entrenched in our daily academic lectures. Through trial and a little error, I have ultimately learned this integral process is not as straightforward as it seems.  During a typical 15-week period of academic interactive engagement, I provide these charges with an intellectually tempting smorgasbord of the most cerebrally tantalizing fruits of my Africana Studies/ Communication pedagogy and in turn, I trust them to serve these same delectable morsels to others they meet throughout the course of their lives.
One of my most revealing “ah hah” teaching moments typically begins when I pose the simple question “How many of you are registered voters?” The smattering of African American, Hispanic and White students hands raised of those who are and the downward gazing at the classroom floor of the embarrassed majority who aren’t, seems  telling and sadly predictable. Their responses however become the portal to my Introduction to African American studies course’s postmodern Civil Rights journey into discovering why President Lyndon B. Johnson could, in 1965 solemnly proclaim with certainty and conviction, “the vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men.”
  Apparently, not everyone in my collective African American village valued the power of the vote during this election.  Reminiscent of the short sightedness of the Old Testament’s Esau, some prominent and not so prominent African American clergymen attempted to lull their trusting congregations into collectively squandering their voting birthright. Why? Newly re-elected President Barack Obama’s support of marriage equality, (a reflective admission the President made during his exclusive May 2012 interview with Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts) for heterosexuals and gays alike set off the equivalent of  a homophobic atomic bomb in some of the more fundamentalist conservative  Black church leadership circles.  From the pulpits of the smallest storefronts to those of the mammoth mega churches, these African American ministers strutted, strolled, and shouted their anger at our nation’s leader— mind you a leader they had worked so hard to get into office four years earlier.  In rank opposition to the President’s stance, these clergymen’s Pharisaic sanctimonious rhetoric sank to a new bully pulpit abyss when they stormed the national media airwaves, calling on other African American pastors and congregations to not only refuse to vote for President Obama but to boycott the entire election process.  One prominent minister even bragged about “goin’ fishing’” on Election Day. From the smug look on his face and the snide tone of his voice, one can assume he did not mean fishing for souls.
            Credulity aside, one can only imagine what an earlier generation of Civil Rights icons (Fred Shuttlesworth, Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Lee Parks) would say about this pastoral hubris.  No doubt they would encourage these pastors take a pilgrimage with Georgia’ s U.S. Representative John Lewis to Selma, Alabama and re live the horrors of “Bloody Sunday.”  I would go two steps further.  I say  let them stand in front of Fannie Lou Hamer’s statue in Ruleville, Mississippi and tell her that the brutal beatings and humiliation she endured to bring the vote to black Americans were a waste of her time.  Let them tell Medgar Ever’s widow and his four grown children who lost a husband and a father to a cowardly assassin’s bullet that felled him on a dark muggy Mississippi night that the right to vote was not worth him dying for.
            Civil Rights activist Ella Baker once said, “Give people light and they will find a way.” Ninety five percent of the African American vote thankfully found that light when they refused to listen to ill-advised calls to boycott the election process, casting their ballots to reelect our nation’s 44th---President Barack H. Obama. I am proud to say that some of my students who had taken that voting lecture journey with me were in that number.
Now that the President is safely back in office, I challenge these pastors to raise their pulpit voices against long standing issues that continue to plague the African American community. Let African Americans hear more problem solving action oriented sermons that help combat and defeat poverty, homelessness and the high unemployment rate. Boycott the ministries of your colleagues who engage in sexual misconduct, abuse even rape of congregation members. Call convincingly for ethical use of church tithes and offerings by all bishops, pastors, ministers, and staff and family members.
            And never ever use a pulpit to try to take away one of African Americans most cherished village treasures—the precious right to vote.


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