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

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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”?

Cuban. Crisis?

Some may be surprised but I, for one, am not mad at Mark Cuban. I am neither Cuban fan nor detractor but his comments and our reaction to those comments deserve examination. Cuban was open, honest and true to himself. And while we’re being honest, his “crossing the street” statement merely described the behavior of many people – Black, white and other. I agree Cuban’s “hoodie” reference was insensitive at best but he recognized and apologized for it in hindsight. Some will choose to park the focus of their argument here but to do so skirts the issue.

The media will seek to sit Mark Cuban on the same bench with Don Sterling but their game isn’t the same. Both Cuban and Sterling were speaking in a seemingly relaxed and controlled setting. They were under no pressure to say the “right” thing. Cuban spoke his mind and Sterling was obviously out of his. Sterling never expected his words to be heard outside of where they were spoken, while Cuban’s words sought no such confinement.

I do not believe Cuban is racist but he is prejudiced. Which makes him just like the rest of us, although given the background of a number of players on the team he owns, one might think Cuban would be more aware than most of the dangers and fallacy of such broad statements. However, if we really want to work at the eradication of racism, prejudice, bigotry and all things related then we must allow people the space to be honest and to grow. We must sanctify safe spaces where people can speak freely without judgment.

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America has been infected with a terminal case of prejudice for a long time; I dare say since it’s inception. It manifests itself as bigotry, racism and all things related. Cuban’s words come from a mind tainted with the residue left by years of the social construction we have come to know as racism; that system of beliefs that values or devalues people on sight. It is an illness that many refuse to recognize as such, especially since the election of Barak Obama to the office of President of the United States. Many believe we now live in a “post-racial society” and I say there is no such animal. Can we ever get there? Prayerfully, but not without doing the work and not without open and honest conversation.

Cuban was direct and honest. I appreciate his honesty because now there is something with which to work; I know what to focus on to correct his thinking or at least to give it pause … and perhaps next time he will think differently when he sees a Black guy in a hoodie or a white guy with a bunch of tats. Cuban described his behavior when he saw certain Black and white folk.

Mark Cuban painted a picture and revealed for us at least two things he considers dangerous or frightening. If we look past how he chose to say it, Cuban’s words reveal his truest concern and the most basic human instinct: self-preservation. How can he stay safe while walking the streets? Well that’s a conversation we all could be interested in, right? Right! But before we have that conversation we need to address the flaws and stereotypes that riddle his (and our) thoughts.

If we continue to attack those who are simply speaking their truths then people will stop speaking altogether. They will harbor their truths internally and those truths will manifest in thoughts that become actions, lies that produce laws and perversions the become policies conceived in fearful minds. Let’s work at meeting folk who are stumbling in the dim light of ignorance and walk with them toward enlightenment.

If we want to help change the world in which we live let’s work at creating safe spaces to be honest without judgment for each who care to understand all; that is, if you truly believe changing the world is a cause worth your while.

Speak Life

Speak LifeJust STOP IT!  Right now … whatever it is … whatever you are doing … whatever you are saying … whatever you are thinking about … in your own life or anyone else’s life that isn’t positive or life affirming … STOP IT!

Here’s why:  “Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof. “  (Proverbs 18:21)

 Those of us who believe in a God believe that when God breathed life into us there was some divinity in that breath. Hence, there is some of God in all of us. That is what I define as one’s spirit. And It is that spirit that connects us all to everything else and vice versa … plants, animals, trees, earth, water, stars … and yes, even and especially, each other.

I recently learned of the death of someone I didn’t know but knew of.  We weren’t close at all. I didn’t know if she was married or if she had children or any of that … our “conversations” consisted of nothing more than the pleasantries exchanged in passing. I seem to remember meeting her once and shaking hands as I was exiting an elevator she was preparing to enter.  Suffice it to say, our day- to- day interactions were limited. She worked on her part of the puzzle and I worked on mine. We, together with everyone else we worked with were helping to create the “big picture”.

There is no “big” job or “small” job … there is only “our” job.  In the case of higher education, all of “our” jobs are about creating a safe, healthy, life affirming and capable space for future leaders to be groomed and released to change the world. For those of you in another field, you have your “big picture” and whatever that picture is, be certain discord, chaos, “mean speak” or anything that isn’t life affirming is NOT part of it. But I digress.

With the exception of what I felt to be her spirit when we met, I really hadn’t learned this person well enough to remember anything most would consider substantive. However, I DO remember what helped short circuit my learning was the residue … the remnants of “mean speak” and skepticism concerning the extended period of leave she had taken. But I have come to learn much more about her.

I learned she was strong … much stronger than the mean spirited words spoken about her or those who spoke them. I learned she was a fighter. I learned she had already survived at least one bout with cancer before she came to us and, after a brief respite, she was in the throes of yet another battle with what had become stage 4 cancer. I learned she must have known the type of environment she needed to be in to heal and knew she knew she wasn’t in it … and it was while fighting this battle she found need for an extended period of leave. I learned on the tail end of that leave she suffered a brain hemorrhage and some paralyzation as a result.  She survived all of that and now, little more three years after our meeting at the elevator, I learned she is gone. No more pain … no more fighting … only Glory.

Though I didn’t know her, I felt I had met her spirit. I believe our spirits connected in that brief clasping of hands at the elevator. There was something about her countenance … something that conveyed the divinity that God deposits in us all with that breath. No, it doesn’t always translate as jovial or what many would consider “approachable”; at times, it may be pious or stoic … but however God’s spirit shows up, its energy is unmistakably sure and true.

I believe we all are in possession of that energy. In some, it bursts forth almost daily and you can feel it. You see them and you begin to feel better. In others, the vicissitudes of life seem to have been piled high atop that energy by feeding doubt, sowing seeds of cynicism and speaking words that are indicative of where they are in life or how they feel.  Whether the energy is good or bad, we project that – sometimes knowingly but most times not – onto those we share life with … in our homes … in our places of work … in all of our interactions, we put that energy out into the world.

All that I am saying is, words matter. Be aware. Speak life. Choose to be blessed!