Vote Smart: Millennials, Alternative Parties & Your Vote in Context

every-vote-counts

 

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A little over 20 years ago Gil Scott-Heron put these lyrics in a song (poem) entitled “Message to the Messengers”. It was primarily directed toward the next generation of rappers (poets) in an effort to help ensure their intentions were not lost in battles over their word choice or the methods of rebellion for change their songs seemed to endorse. It was wisdom shared from an old falling star to the new meteors on the rise. It is in this vein that I share these words with both the old falling stars (50+) and the new meteors rising (18+) in the world of politcs.

While this campaign season has been one of the most ridiculous things I have ever seen, bar none, for the most part this election will be no different than all the others. Without question, there is more at stake but the election process will include the same five groups that every election has had in my voting lifetime.

There will be those firmly planted in either the Democratic or Republican party because they “have always been” and/or they are heavily (in)vested. We will hear from the cynical, wisecracking savants who consider themselves “too smart” and their refusal to be “ignored or taken for granted” by either party. Breaking onto the scene will be the new voter, recently awakened to the world of politics. Some of these young folk will just be glad to be able to vote and will most likely vote for who they “think” will win. Then there will be others in this group who will wave their voter card around like a blindfolded, drunken man with a loaded gun ranting about all of the ills of politics that they can now help “fix”. And last but not least – in what could be the largest group – we have the disenfranchised. Here we find the apathetic; those locked away in prisons; those who were once locked away but are now back in society, yet unable (because of politics, mind you) to vote. Many of these folk have only seen government do something “to” them (Republican)  or “for” them (Democrat) but rarely “with” (utopian) them. From their point of view, government – led by either party – is not only limiting with regard to their ability to progress but also limited in an overall desire to deal with the systemic, societal challenges.

Look, I understand people have problems with both candidates running for President of the United States of America, I promise you, I GET it! But this is so much bigger than disdain for one personality or the other. There is so much more at stake. Our vote is the most powerful right we possess and in this election, in particular, I am worried that my “too smart” and “newly awakened” voting brothers and sisters could unwittingly place the standard bearer of a mindset in the White House that has no problem with the fact it was built by slaves.

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We can ill afford to just register new voters without informing them of the power and responsibility of their vote. We wouldn’t give a newly licensed sixteen-year-old the keys to a car and turn them loose without instruction nor should we give new voters the effective keys to the White House with the assumption they grasp the depth and importance of that right. I am not saying we should indoctrinate but am saying it is incumbent upon those of us who understand the power of the vote, and the political history of this country, to at least try to respectfully educate these new voters.

I hate to speak of Politics as a “game” but it seems to be “played” all day, everyday and as with all games, there are rules that must be learned and adhered to. Does adherence assure you will always win? Of course not. However, it can help ensure you won’t always lose. The fact is in the game of politics you can do more than just win or lose outright. It may sound ironic but you can also “win” by losing (giving something up) or “lose” by winning (refusal to give something up).

In my mind there are only six voting scenarios for every citizen in this election:

  1. Vote for Hillary Clinton
  2. Vote for Donald Trump
  3. Vote for Jill Stein
  4. Vote for Gary Johnson
  5. Vote for a write-in candidate of your choice
  6. Don’t vote

Only one of these scenarios assures Donald Trump will not be elected President of the United States. Anything other than a vote for Hillary Clinton is, in effect, a vote for Donald Trump and all votes count… especially after the Presidential election of sixteen years ago.

New voters are too young to remember the Presidential election of 2000. Al Gore and George W. Bush were where Hillary and Trump are now. The same five voting groups I mentioned earlier existed. Gary Johnson and Jill Stein were embodied in Ralph Nader, the Green Party candidate.

According to the 2000 Census, 111,000,000 people voted in that Presidential election; that made up about 55% of voting age population of the entire country. But the election essentially came down to the votes in one state, Florida. When the Supreme Court decided to halt the recount, George Bush was ahead by 537 votes. Florida declared Bush the winner by a 0.00048% margin. I would rather lose by 10,000,000 votes! Oh, and what about Ralph Nader, you ask? Nader got 97,488 votes in Florida and since most 3rd party candidates are to the left of mainstream Democrats, it is safe to assume the majority of those votes would have gone to Al Gore if Nader were not in the race.

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Imagine for a moment that Al Gore won the election. There would have been no Cheney, Rumsfeld or Wolfowitz, no trumped up “weapons of mass destruction” claim, no speculation of whether we were at war for legitimate reasons or simple revenge. There would have probably been more diplomacy and respect. And quite possibly, no war in Iraq.

Sometimes I think the good Lord allows history to repeat itself just to see if we were paying attention and if we learned anything.

With your vote you help to directly determine who is in power and those in power directly determine who sits on the Supreme Court, and so many other important positions.

So let this serve as proof your vote does indeed count. So, Vote and Vote Smart! #allvotesmatters #votesmart #holdthemaccountable

 

When Morning Comes (Ode to the Ancestors)

PopsOBXSunset.PNGThere are times when nothing seems quite right. Your thoughts ramble without destination. Before long you realize the day has run out of time, so you curl upon your mattress only to find there is no sleep in your bed. And so, there you lay … remembering.

They knew all you could be before you knew who you were. And they were intent on molding you … separating you and your life from all the mistakes they had made in their own.

There were others you watched and attempted to mold yourself after. Whether or not you should was inconsequential. They poured technicolor into your black & white life. They made you feel alive.

You thank God for them … every one of them. You miss them … every one of them. You love them … every one of them. They knew it then. And they know it now … though they are ten zillion light years away.

The weight is lifted from your heart and rests upon the lids of your eyes. Sleep finds its way back into your bed … and you dream of waking up to a new day … a day when you can see in someone else what the ancestors saw in you.

Children, we best get our rest, for there is much work to do when morning comes.

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After All the Benedictions…

Many of us will go to church today and leave feeling better then we did when we entered. Our reservoirs of hope will filled, our burdens will have been laid down or lifted and our faith will have been restored. But let us be mindful as we are exiting the open doors of the church we are entering a world where hearts have been closed by the heaviness of everyday life. Where reservoirs of hope have dried to dust, burdens have multiplied exponentially… and faith? Well, faith for some is nothing more than a word from some foreign language.

After saying our prayers, singing our joy, making our tithes, dropping our offerings in the plate and hearing a good Word, we will leave feeling satisfied that we have done our part in making the world a better place. Many of us will amble on to the parking lots of our sacred spaces exchanging “God bless yous” and “Have a good weeks” with our Christian kith while retrieving our purses and valuables from the trunk of our car without a second thought or realizing the irony therein. Some of us will fling our Bible in the back window of the same car where it will live until next Sunday… err … that is the next Sunday we decide to go back to church. At times I can’t help but wonder how different the world we enter into upon leaving church would be if the wear and tear of our Bibles were due to use and not sunburn. But as usual, I digress.

I suppose for some of us attending, praying, singing, tithing, offering, listening and worshipping is all we can do. Age and/or illness has rendered us unable to convert our faith from noun to verb but for a great many of us, that isn’t the case. We can do more and, in fact, the world is demanding – every day- that we do more.

Every day – Sundays included – we exist in a world with unmet need in large part due to the unrealized potential in each one of us to do better. We seem to be stepping over, and many times on, our brothers and sisters, while clawing to be “the best” at everything when all we need to do is be “better”… better parents, better children, better siblings, better spouses, better bosses, better employees, better lovers of all humanity, better peace makers… better… today than we were yesterday.

Everything that goes on within the walls of our churches is fine but what happens when we leave that place? What happens after the open doors of the church close? What do we physically do to address the hurt in our communities? What do we physically do about the violence? The addictions? The injustices? The brokenness? Where is our sacrifice of time spent engaging with others, meeting folk where they are? For whatever reason, there are folk who aren’t comfortable in our churches. Are we willing to go where they are comfortable? Will we meet them where they are? Without disdain? Without judgement?

Stroking a check is nice and if that’s all you can do believe me it’s necessary and appreciated. Keep it up! But what if you can do more than just write a check? What if you are in good health not financially but physically? Or maybe you are blessed with both good finances and good health. When do you put your body on the line? When do you give something you don’t have an endless supply of… something like “time”?

In order to really help others we have to be willing to risk something, we have to give something up and usually that “something” is nothing more than time. We need to be willing to engage folk where they are. We must we be willing to feel the pain of others – to the point of being consumed by that same pain.

Picture, if you will, a house were on fire. All you can see are flames and smoke with the one exception of a hand waving and a voice you hear screaming, “Save me!”, from the second floor window. What good is that tattered, sunburned Bible on the ledge of your back window in that moment? Do you think you could write a check big enough to save that person? The only chance you have of saving that person’s life is to risk your own.

So after the benedictions today, when the opened doors of the churches close let us go back and save some folk. I’m not necessarily speaking in the evangelical sense of the word “save” nor am I speaking from a place of ontological righteousness. I’m not some bumptious upstart pointing a finger at any one but I am speaking to all of us … because … our “houses” are being swept up in conflagrations of mistrust, selfishness and self-absorption and until we see ourselves in one another… until your problem becomes mine and vice versa? We are merely slow dancing in burning rooms.

Open Letter to Michael Jordan

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Dear Mike,

I’m sorry but we just don’t have time to listen to you right now. We’ve been a little too busy burying children…some of whom looked up to you … some of whom may have even dreamt of being “like Mike”.

So many young Black boys see so much of themselves in you. I wonder how many more we’ll lose before you begin to see yourself in them. Remember when you were a little Black, impressionable boy, Mike? Remember when you were Tamir Rice’s age? Trayvon Martin’s age? MICHAEL Brown’s age? JORDAN Davis’ age… hell, two of their first names form your whole name. Remember??

I’m trying to get to your soul Michael. Now I am no advocate for the killing anyone of any color but if I am honest, I find your timing a bit troubling. You wait until after a rash of police officer shootings to say something? Yet the epidemic, the apparent “open season” on Black lives at the hands of police officers didn’t warrant your concern?  I’ll admit Michael, I don’t know your entire life story but I don’t think you have ever been a police officer… but I’m pretty sure you’ve been a little Black boy.

I don’t know, Mike … maybe I’m being too harsh. Perhaps I shouldn’t beat you up because at least you’re on record as having said something. But I’ve got to be honest… I’m not there yet. I can’t help but think – in the shadow of the death of Muhammad Ali less than two months ago – that I can’t put your names in the same sentence. See, Mike, the athletes of those days gone by gave their all and they didn’t have half of what you’ve got in the way of resources but they had double what you’ve got in heart and commitment to social justice.

In the remembrance of the late Muhammad Ali,  Curt Flood, Jackie Robinson and so many other unnamed heroes, I need you to speak up more. In honor of the Jim Browns, the John Carlos’ and Tommie Smiths and all those who used their talent and celebrity to further the cause of the least, the lost and the left out, I need you to speak out, more. For the many whose glory  days were spent in a courtroom, jailhouse or battling the residue of racism that beset their collective spirit, for those who knew they wouldn’t get lucrative endorsement deals because they couldn’t remain silent in the face of those who only loved them for their athletic prowess and damned their politics, I need you to show up, differently.

For all these young Black boys who have died in the streets for whatever reason… whether by the hand of those sworn to protect and serve or by another jealous, misguided young child, who wanted his victim’s “Air Jordans” …I need you to show up more, to say more …to do more…  to be MORE …than a brand.

So forgive me if I don’t rush over to kiss one of your championship rings … there’s work to do. I’m not sure if you are seeing he light or feeling the heat … and while I’m glad you finally said something I really can’t hear you right now. I may get there …but not yet.

Peace,
Wendell

/fək/  /ˈrāˌsizəm/

This Independence Day morning I decided to walk to the grocery store to get some milk and juice. It was to serve a dual purpose: mind clearing, rejuvenating exercise and necessary errand. The skies were cloudy so it wasn’t too hot. Eric Reed & Cyrus Chestnut’s “Prayer” was playing in my earbuds; a near perfect mix of jazz, blues and gospel. The early morning hour helped ensure I was in the company of a different set of God’s creatures; deer, geese and rabbit and not many humans. And even with all that, racism’s residue managed to creep in!

When I left the store I realized my music took a back seat to the voice in my head that screamed “F@%k Racism”! Out of nowhere I started worrying about things that only those directly affected by racism would understand. If you don’t understand then you ain’t affected. Racism’s residue has stolen so much of my time over my 52 years… wiggled it’s way into my thoughts so many times throughout my life.

Despite many positive role models there were moments where I suffered from doubt… truth be told there still are from time to time. I often find remnants of racism hoarding valuable space in my already cluttered mind. For example, why the hell do I still remember my Maryland Driver’s license number 37 years after I got it and almost 10 years after I turned it in for a North Carolina Driver’s license? The question made me reflect with anger and sorrow simultaneously. The anger was all mine but the sorrow was for my parents. How many of my extended adolescent nights had I caused them to worry?

I was mad my thoughts went where they went. Mad that I had to memorize my driver’s license number because as a Black male teenager growing up in Baltimore (or anywhere else for that matter), you didn’t want to go into your pocket for anything. We were taught to keep our hands in plain sight and to be respectful –  even if the police were not. “No sense being right AND dead” we were told. “Cemetery’s full of folk who were ‘right’ “, said others.

I then found my thoughts bending toward a consciousness of what I was wearing (tee shirt, cap, sneakers and shorts) and whether or not I had need of my receipt… not for proof of purchase but proof of “whereabouts” for an alibi in case something “happened” to any one, any where in the city during my walk between the store and home because “you just never know”. But what could happen? I was walking home with milk and orange juice, right? Oh, but wait, wasn’t Trayvon “just” walking from the store to his home? And wasn’t Tamir “just” playing by himself in broad daylight? 

Sometimes there is nothing “just” in the way America deals with justice… or is it the way she deals with just “us”?

The Gift of Forgiveness (Ode to Isy’s Mom)

Bandaged Heart

“To forgive is human, to forget is divine”
So the ageless quote makes clear

See the problem with forgiveness is not the deed itself
But rather the nagging, lingering fear …

“How can I let them get away with all that they have done to me?”
“Won’t they think it weak of me if
I just ‘let it be’?”

To carry the pain, the guilt, the shame … it’s all just too much to bear –
They tend to seep
so very deep
‘til there’s not much of your heart left to share

So life moves on … except, wait … not for you
For you’ve refused to let go of the pain

And decades later you stand confused
For you’ve forgotten just where to place blame

Might I suggest for you it may be best
To release it … open your gnarled heart and let go

Resod the fertile ground of your heart …
Open wide and let love out loud grow!

Forgiveness-restores-Freedom-to-Heart

Choose to be Blessed!

1821OJ

The Sermon on the (Tennis) Court

CLP Eden TournI know we all count our children as a blessing but we are really blessed if the time comes when our children become our teachers; teaching us things about ourselves and how to “be” in the world. Well, let me go on record and say that I am REALLY blessed! Many of you have seen this picture of Clarke on Ruth’s page but let me share the story and lesson behind the picture.

Considering all that she is involved in, Clarke has maintained a solid B+ average for the past couple of years. She is a member of the student council, number 3 seed on the varsity Tennis team at her school (15- 20 hrs per week practicing) and she’s just 15 years old. Let me go on record and say I was doing NONE of that when I was 15 (16,17, 18, 19 or 20)!

This was her first tournament of 2015 and only her 2nd tournament since moving up to the 16yr & under category but in this particular tournament, though she signed up for 16 & under (16&U) there was only one other 16yr old who signed up along with her. So the tournament officials said, “well we can just let you two play your match then you can just play with the 18 & under (18&U) bracket, too”.

Well, the USTA folks gave the “OFFICIAL” official word which said Clarke and the other young lady would have to make a choice: either they stay in the 16&U group, play the one match and whoever won just that one match would take home the trophy OR they could enter the 18&U group and play the tougher competition where the players were much more advanced. In fact, the #1 & #2 seeds in this particular 18&U tournament were High School Seniors who had already been accepted to college and offered full-ride tennis scholarships (they were signing the following week). Clarke knew these two girls because they just happened to also be the #1 & #2 seed at her school where she is the #3 seed. In fact, they were the very reason why Clarke was seeded #3! But there were five other 18 yr olds (and the other 16 yr old) Clarke had never seen and didn’t know standing between her and the 18&U trophy.

So, play one match where there’s a 50% chance of winning the 1st place trophy and 100% of coming home with SOME hardware (though most of it is plastic now) OR play with the much stiffer competition where there is just a slim chance that she would come home with even the 3rd place trophy? After a “quick” call to her coach/ mentor/ grandfather figure/ friend and Godsend to us all, JW Quick, Clarke decided it was better to play the tougher competition and more matches for the experience rather than play one match for the trophy. So she entered the 18&U tournament much to the dismay of the 16 yr old who was now forced to play 18&U or go home. Since Clarke and this girl were the youngest and originally signed up for 16&U, they were paired to play each other first.

Clarke was a little rusty but in a little more than 90 minutes, she got through that match (split sets and a tie breaker) victoriously. She had about the same amount of time to rest and get something to eat before her next match. Now, had Clarke decided to play 16&U, we would have been on our way home with the 1st Place trophy! But Clarke chose to play 18&U.

Her next opponent was the #2 seed who happened to be her teammate from her high school Tennis team. She was an aggressive player, strong and athletic like Clarke and she had a few more years of experience than Clarke. At times like these, we have grown accustomed to hearing and saying, “oh well, anything is possible”, but I knew the likelihood of Clarke’s winning was slim. In fact, we all had just watched this #2 seed obliterate her first opponent in half the time of Clarke’s match without even breaking a sweat. We could only hope that Clarke’s defeat wouldn’t render her feeling distraught or hopeless.

Clarke played some of the best tennis I had seen her play to date. Her serves were fire! Her overhead shots had gotten so much better and her placement was spot on! Passersby and parents of other children who had already lost hung around just to watch the battle of these two titans of tennis (cue theme music from Rocky).

Clarke in Swing

Clarke lost consecutive sets (7-5, 7-5) and most of those games went to multiple deuces or she lost by a point. It was a great match to watch even though Clarke lost. We’ve taught Clarke that losing isn’t the end of the world but how you lose makes all the difference in the world. She was exhausted but Clarke had left all she had on that court. With first and second place now officially out of reach, Clarke was to return on Sunday to vie for 3rd place.

The next morning Clarke could barely move, her entire body ached but she got up and got herself together. Her opponent lost to the #1 seed the day before in split sets and a tie breaker; yet another worthy and more experienced opponent. From the outset of the match it was easy to see that Clarke was stiff and needed some time to work the soreness out of her muscles and the kinks out of her gameplay. On any other day I believe, without a doubt, Clarke would have beaten the young lady but fatigue began to set in midway through the first set. Clarke would lose the first set in a tie breaker.

As the second set began, I was amazed that Clarke still had enough power to serve some untouchable zingers but she had more trouble keeping her forehand in play on this day than the day before. The second set got lopsided early. The score was 4-1 and Clarke seemed to be completely spent; I thought she had given up … but I was wrong. Clarke came back … 4-2 … then 4-3 came quickly. Her opponent won another game and it was 5-3 but then Clarke kept coming, pulling strength from some place deep within her… 5-4 … then 5-5! Her opponent won the last two games for a second set final of 7-5 but it sure wasn’t easy; so now the door had closed on 1st, 2nd and 3rd place trophies for the 18&U tournament.

People could tell Clarke was tired but marveled at her comeback, especially those who had been there a day earlier. They were still talking about Clarke’s grueling match from the day before! She had earned the respect of perfect strangers and imperfect friends.

As we were leaving the manager of the tournament stopped Clarke, shook her hand and said, “You played some great tennis out there and I’m sorry we don’t have any hardware for you to take home after all your hard play in the 18&U tournament…”

“Thanks”, Clarke replied.

“… but technically”, the tournament manger continued, “you did beat the only other person who originally signed up for the 16&U tournament. So that means you won 1st Place in the 16&U group. And, Oh, by the way, and the points you earned playing the 18&U will be applied to your 16&U ranking”.

He picks up the trophy we didn’t know existed and hands it to Clarke. My exhausted, defeated young titan’s face beamed with an outrageous joy that couldn’t be contained. Though she didn’t get what she had hoped to get, her hard work and discipline had gotten her something more than she expected.

The lesson I learned from a 15 year old? Keep pushing. Regardless of how much you practice … no matter how hard you’ve toiled and it doesn’t seem to be working out in your favor … keep pushing. Employ all the gifts God has given you. In this case, quite literally, “the last was  first”… and all the points she lost by not choosing to enter the 16&U tournament were restored for having the courage to take on the bigger, more difficult challenge.

Funny, I never thought I could attend “church” on a tennis court… with my 15 year daughter as the preacher … living The Word right in front of us all. Now, had Clarke decided to play 16&U, we wouldn’t have even been there that day! But Clarke chose to play 18&U and we all were blessed… I hope you were, too.