U.S. Senator Marco Rubio assiduously worked behind the scenes to keep black Democrat Congressman Kendrick Meek in the 2010 Senate race to take black votes from governor Charlie Crist. Who can forget that in the three ways Senate race, Crist was run out of the Republican Party by the tea party and Rubio’s strong candidacy and had to campaign as an Independent?
These Miami-Dade County politicians had every reason to scratch each other’s back.
Meek saw himself a winner regardless of how the Senate race turned out. By ruthlessly engaging in the politics of containment, Meek would gain access to the Washington K Street millions as a Capitol Hill lobbyist. By playing such a game, however, Meek left in his wake the powerlessness of Florida’s black communities, whose votes for him gained black people absolutely nothing.
Remember, too, that Meek – like Florida’s two other black congresspersons, Alcee Hastings and Corrine Brown – endorsed Hillary Clinton for president in 2008, while black constituents went on to support Barack Obama by between 90 and 95 percent. Former President Bill Clinton tried unsuccessfully to get Meek to quit the Senate race he could not win and support the moderate Crist against Rubio.
After Rubio’s election, Meek did not get a golden K Street lobbying spot. In fact, Washington Democrats and Republicans alike apparently shunned the spoiler. Word has it that, after intense groveling around, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton finally gave Meek some outside of Washington, really nondescript, job at the United Nations in New York City.
I submit that political containment is not attainable without victim compliance. Dysfunction and the lack of organization will not germinate wealth and power. Although black leaders of every stripe are clearly aware of past and present reality, they nevertheless tend to submit to the power of others, rather than build black power.
For example, politicians want to get into office and stay in office until they can get elected to the next highest office.
So they analyze who voted in the last four elections. Every other election is a statewide election. Those voters become the people in each precinct whose votes are coveted. All other persons of voting age are, at best, tertiary voters and most may never be contacted by someone seeking political office.
While white America can afford to play this political numbers-game, it is deleterious for black communities, everywhere. That numbers-game negates the organizing black political people need to be doing. Yes, black politicians get elected that way but they tend to have no power and little respect as elected officials.
Black elected officials generally are winners of 10 percent, more or less, of their district’s registered voters. But the vast majority of citizens who can vote don’t. For many years during segregation, Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr. was feared by white nationalists in Congress, and everywhere else, because he could walk the streets of Harlem and gather a crowd of hundreds to a rally on 125th Street. Such direct action made news everywhere.
Powell didn’t just get black people registered to vote; he did voter-education, organized boycotts of stores in Harlem that would not hire black people, had rent strikes, got more polls opened in Harlem — and on and on. Powell was a leader who organized the power of the people.
In all of this, though, the fundamental element missing is the understanding of what citizenship is, what binds us together as African Americans and to the commonwealth.
Are we not responsible for developing positive communities?
Are we not responsible for re-educating Kendrick Meek and others like him and harness their experiences, good and bad, to teach our up-and-coming ones? Our forward movement is dependent on whether we can exorcise the enemy within.
*Al Calloway is a longtime journalist who began his career with the Atlanta Inquirer during the early 1960s civil rights struggle. He may be reached at Al_Calloway@verizon.net