Grief can be a terrible blinder. Tears fill our eyes and make it hard to see, even though we feel more clear-eyed in the face of tragedy. I fear that the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in New York will blind us and foster illusions about the political actions the Black community must take.
The messengers of the status quo, known to us as the Democratic Party, are knocking on our doors and stuffing our mailboxes with fliers. Remember Ferguson, they say, so be sure to come out and vote in record numbers for Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate. At all costs, we are told, preserve the Democratic majority in the Senate. Rev. Al Sharpton recently observed, “People feel like they would be betraying the spirit of what happened in Ferguson, as well as enabling this impeachment rhetoric, if there’s a low turnout.”
What a trap. We who have been victimized by a profound and never-ending racial violence are to be blamed if we do not turn out in record numbers to prevent the Democratic Party from losing seats in the Senate. Need I mention that the Governor of Missouri and the Mayor of New York City are both Democrats?
I am an independent, not a Democrat. I ran for president as an independent. In 1988 I became the first African American and first woman to access the ballot in all 50 states. In 1992, I forged an alliance with the Perot movement, propelling a multi-racial movement to reform the electoral process. Today 42 percent of Americans are independents, many are people of color.
It’s old news that we are taken for granted by the Democrats and that our political power is diminished by voting in predictable ways. And yet we are again being told that the Democratic Party is our savior and the Republican Party is evil incarnate. Neither is true.
Due to open primaries in Mississippi in which all voters are free to choose to vote in any primary, Black voters cast their ballots against the Tea Party candidate in the Republican Senate primary runoff. The whole world took notice because this voter mobility allowed Black people to slam the door on the far right. The more mobility we have, the more powerful we can be. In 2005 I led a New York City coalition which pulled 47 percent of Black voters away from the Democratic Party for independent Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Democratic Party bigwigs from Hillary Clinton to Eliot Spitzer went on a rampage to undercut us. We survived, but the message to the Black community was clear. Stay put, politically speaking, or you will pay a price. We have largely stayed put. And we continue to pay a heavy price for that.
Electing Barack Obama was a great accomplishment for the nation. But his ability to lead is impaired by the demands the Democratic Party places on him to re-enforce its power. Black people feel very protective of Barack Obama. He is Black, and he has come under vicious attack. The Democratic Party exploits this by requiring loyalty to the party above all else.
Promoting the idea that justice for Ferguson means voting for Democrats is one more manipulation in that game. Sadly enough, the legacy of America’s first Black president may be to leave the Black community more isolated, deprived and disempowered than it has been for 60 years.
I want the Black community to join me in helping to build the nonpartisan reform movement. We need a nonpartisan political system that encourages, rather than represses, new coalitions and voter mobility. This is how new and effective approaches to poverty, to police/community relations and to developing our youth can become public policy. This movement is already successfully putting pressure on the establishment. For example, Sen. Charles Schumer recently endorsed a nonpartisan primary system, a shift from his prior position. We must make the most of this opening. My colleagues Dr. Jessie Fields and Alvaader Frazier are leading a campaign demanding that Schumer now lead the fight for nonpartisan elections in New York.
No voter, regardless of race, political creed or color, should be required to join a political party in order to participate in an election. We must do more than go to funerals. We must free up the Black community to become more politically powerful. Join me in building a national Black Reformers Network.
Dr. Lenora Fulani is a developmental psychologist, education innovator and the country’s leading political independent. In 2006, she initiated Operation Conversation: Cops and Kids, a successful, alternative approach to addressing police/community relations, produced by the All Stars Project in partnership with the NYPD.