Controversy, Conscience and Choice
Stacey Dash was criticized for supporting Romney, but that's better than what many do--just not vote at all
Two nights ago, I attended a pre-screening of a new BET News series called “Second Coming? Will Black America Decide 2012” that airs on the network next Friday. The docu-series examines the years since the election of President Obama and how his Presidency has inspired or not inspired black communities around the country. In the first episode, a woman who lives in violence-plagued Chicago admits that she had not voted for 32 years prior to 2008 and, because of her disappointment about how violence in Chicago has been ignored, that she might not vote for another 32 years.
It is a statement that I have heard and written about before, but it was a statement that shocked me nonetheless. No matter how many times I hear it, it’s one of those things that I just can’t rationalize and it stings like a whip. I heard that statement a day after I watched a video of a pastor telling people not to vote for Barack Obama, heard stories about other pastors telling their congregations not to vote at all, and during a week when people were up in arms about Stacey Dash tweeting her support of Mitt Romney. While I’ve grouped all of these things together, not all of them are equally troubling. But I’ve noticed that people have been talking about them as if they are all the same.
What is utterly reprehensible and totally misguided is to tell anyone not to vote. Even if a pastor disagrees with a president’s personal position, that is never a reason to tell someone not to vote. The president has not made a policy about same sex marriage and yet a few pastors, upset with his personal opinion, have told their members not to vote on Election Day. Pastors making this statement are hurting the very communities that they are supposed to be helping. By not voting, you are not part of the decision making process about who will make laws and decisions that will ultimately affect you. You are giving away your own power and will be stuck dealing with the ramifications of not playing a part in your future.
Some people mistakenly believe that presidents and politicians have all the power. That belief is totally false and it’s a set up for false expectations. When you understand how government works, you understand that the system is set up for power sharing. In short, the federal government shares power between the three branches: legislative, executive and judicial. States also have a similar power structure and then states and the federal government share responsibility over governance of the laws of the land. When you expect that one president will come in and change the world (or even the state of the black community) that is a hope that is sure to be dashed. What’s more is that the President serves either four or eight years, and then someone else takes his seat, and power shifts to someone else with his or her own priorities and value system. But what never changes is that we, the people, vote the president and politicians into office. Ultimately, we have the power to say who stays and who goes. If you relinquish your vote, you relinquish your ability to say whom you think should take that seat.
When people group this in the same bucket as people who make a decision that may be different from what we would expect or what we would decide for ourselves, it is completely wrong and leads people to group think. The beautiful thing about this country is that EVERYONE has a say. Regardless of what our opinion is, each of us has the ability to weigh in. So when people call Stacey Dash’s endorsement of Mitt Romney a “controversy” or put the pastor who wants to vote for Mitt Romney in the same category with the pastors who tell people not to vote, they are wrong. There is no controversy in choosing a candidate that is best for your value system, even if it’s a “nontraditional” or even an unexpected choice. It is not wrong for a pastor to say he is not voting for Barack Obama because he disagrees with the president over certain issues; he is voting his conscience. What is wrong is relinquishing our power because we believe that we don’t have any or because the outcome wasn’t what we imagined. We all have a choice and I’m glad that others are making theirs even if it’s not what I personally would choose. What I can never respect is when we don’t exercise our right to choose.