As a student of history, I am struck by a statement that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made in which he said, “that the most revolutionary thing that any citizen can do is to be an active and engaged citizen.” It is amazing to me that we have just commemorated the 44th anniversary of Dr. King’s death and nothing has changed.

This is an election year and our President is up for re-election. Racial insults are being spewed as he attempts to lead our nation out of the worst economic recession since the great Depression and he fights to keep our nation secure after capturing public enemy #1 Osama Bin Laden. Despite his efforts, the Republican field of candidates vying to replace him continuously engage in race baiting disrespectful behavior, the likes of which have never been seen before.

All of this begs the question- what can people of color do to ensure that their interests will continue to be protected? Issues such as unemployment, access to quality health care, education and affordable tuition and stopping the high foreclosure rates are at the top of the list. Simply put, folks need to get mad as hell and ORGANIZE to stop these radical Republicans from taking the White House back and implementing their oppressive agenda! Make no mistake about the fact that Republicans understand and appreciate power and they will stop at nothing to get it back. They are very clear about their agenda and organizing desperately to implement their agenda.

What I fear most is that many of the people that came out so strong in 2008 for the President will stay at home and have lost their enthusiasm for the political process. States like: Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, Indiana, Michigan, and New Mexico are critical to the President’s re-election. These states have large populations of people of color (i.e., Hispanics and African-Americans). We need to register to vote and mobilize our communities to ensure a strong turnout on Election Day! The stakes are too high!

It sickens me to hear folks make the statement: “I’m not voting because it won’t make a difference.” What a slap in the face to civil rights martyrs such as: Medgar Evers, A. Phillip Randolph, Justice Thurgood Marshall, and Fannie Lou Hamer.

These fearless warriors dedicated their lives to eradicating injustice by ensuring that ALL Americans had the right to vote.

On March 7, 1965, Dr. King led a civil rights march in Selma, Ala. across the Edmund Pettus Bridge with activists including: John Lewis, Andy Young, Ralph Abernathy and Hosea Williams. Dr. King was leading the marchers to Montgomery to galvanize the Black vote. Alabama Governor George Wallace lined the bridge with state troopers to prevent the march. This historic day is commonly known as “Bloody Sunday” because of the violence that was inflicted upon the demonstrators.

They were viciously attacked with clubs and tear gas. John Lewis’ head was cracked open and he suffered a concussion. The television coverage that resulted led President Johnson to send the Voting Rights Act to Congress for approval the same year. This landmark legislation theoretically opened the door of political power to Blacks.

While I was a student at Howard Law School, I had the privilege of participating in our study abroad program in Capetown, South Africa. While studying at the University of the Western Cape (which has a similar history of social and political activism such as Howard University), I had the occasion to meet some of the most fascinating people that I have ever encountered. What made the folks so amazing was their resilience and determination in overcoming the oppression of government sanctioned apartheid. There was a kindred spirit and connection between our struggles here in the US, especially the Civil Rights Movement, and their quest to attain full citizenship.

One day I was touring Robben Island, where my personal hero, Nelson Mandela, spent 27 years in exile. One of the guides told me that he was imprisoned with Mr. Mandela and that he only had one opportunity to vote in his lifetime because of apartheid. He told me that when an election is held it evokes a tremendous sense of pride and that it is an all-day event. He recalled standing in line all day to cast his vote for South Africa’s first democratically elected President “Madiba” as Nelson Mandela is affectionately referred to. Consider this fact: according to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance in 1999 South Africa had a turnout of 89.3 percent and in 2004 a turnout of 98.4 percent.

I personally do not consider voting to be a right or a privilege but a Duty! Anyone who does not fulfill this obligation is disgracing the legacy of Dr. King. A non-vote ultimately is a vote. It signals a lack of interest in how your local tax dollars are being allocated. It signals a lack of interest in the education of our county’s children and the construction of new schools. It signals a lack of interest in developing innovative methods to combat violent crime.

Yes, I adamantly believe that Dr. King’s legacy will be disgraced as long as we don’t become active and engaged citizens. We must become active and engaged on all levels whether it is your local PTA, homeowners’ association, mentoring in the school system, writing to your local newspaper or elected official about what is going on in your community. Hopefully, we won’t lose talented leaders who are willing to serve the community because the community isn’t interested in the political process.

Dr. King led a movement 50 years ago and I believe our nation desperately needs a renewed movement. Hopefully all of Dr. King’s works won’t be in vain.
Dr. King often said, “The vote is not the ball game, but it gets you inside the ballpark.”

Primary elections will be held April 3 for Baltimore and the District of Columbia.

Adrion Howell is founder and CEO of Howell & Associates, a government relations firm in Washington, DC. He has worked for former President Bill Clinton, Reps Charles Rangel (D-NY) and Maxine Waters (D-CA) and the House Ways & Means Committee. He is a graduate of the Howard University School of Law. He may be reached at HowellAssociate1@aol.com.