By Rosetta Miller Perry
A wasted vote is as worthless as no vote, something the white power structure definitely understands. When they can’t suppress the Black vote, the next strategy is to render it useless by diluting or negating its strength. The best way to do that is by picking candidates with no chance at victory, but whose mere presence grabs enough of the African-American vote to essentially render it meaningless. Nashville’s Black community must be especially wary of this with yet another Mayoral election coming up in August. It is now very easy for folks to be fatigued over this process. We must not forget last May’s special election, where David Briley, who’d inherited the job after Megan Barry resigned in March, easily beat a few challengers.
Hopefully African American voters learned a lesson from that result. The time wasn’t right then for a Black candidate to run. That’s not because there was no one with the qualifications to hold the office, but because no candidate had completed the necessary organizational building to truly have a chance to win. Symbolic rhetoric is great for photo opportunities and television appearances, but it doesn’t do much in an actual election. You must be able to sound good and attract voters from a broad constituency as well as your special base. That is a calculated and tough process requiring campaign tactics and strategy that can’t just be thrown together in a few days, or hastily constructed from a handful of rallies.
The Black vote helped put Megan Barry in office because a last minute Black candidate knowing he couldn’t win, entered the race which took away votes that would have gone to Bill Freeman. By the time Megan departed, there was a lot more disappointment than happiness over what happened during her tenure. Black citizens received nothing, no jobs, no appointments – nothing. There remained a widespread disparity in the awarding of contracts to minority owned businesses. But Megan had photo ops with Black women. Black males were still shut out of all top positions in city government. But Megan had photo ops with Black women. The ongoing boom in development and construction continued to happen far outside and inside Black neighborhoods as Megan had photo ops with Black women, and the new Black Music Museum was relegated to a secondary location downtown rather than the primary one it should have had on Jefferson Street as Megan had photo ops with Black women. Granted all of that is now in the past,
but it should be a reminder to every Black woman and every Black voter that too many times our support isn’t rewarded in the manner it should be. I shed tears as I watch the sisters to this day, grinning like chess cats and huddling around Megan as if she is still our mayor. These same Black women quickly forgot that she did not hire educated black men or women in her administration. If so who are they? Where are they? She became Queen mother of Nashville as she tried to close General Hospital without even the administration knowing about it. That is giving respect to our community leaders? Only Trump would do something like this. And what about our Y, close our only Y so that a developer could build condo’s for white Nashvillians? She did nothing for the Black community – NOTHING. Let’s not fall for that slick trap again for anyone running for mayor. But we are a forgiving race and now I am told she has been hired by one of our black education institutions. I said I have been told, this has not been verified.
So now there’s another election coming up, and thus far there are two declared candidates. Besides Briley, now seeking his first full term, there’s Democratic state representative John Ray Clemmons, who announced last week his plans to run. Clemmons has been an aide to Congressman Bob Clement, and also political director for the Tennessee Democratic Party. Well, I know Bob Clement well and just because John Ray was his aide means nothing to me. What is his relationship to the Black Community? Has he supported legislation for minorities? Please don’t think I am going to be excited because of a “connection.” We need more than that. Bring it on, in the Black community. Will he come into our community and introduce himself? What is his platform and campaign objectives? Right now, the Tribune is more concerned about those brothers and sisters drunk on jungle juice, waiting to vote for some “designated” Black candidate to dilute the Black vote. But we’re far more concerned with the possibility of that designated Black candidate with no opportunity of winning emerging out of the woodwork to siphon off Black votes and dilute our power as a bloc. We are sick and tired of these politicians more interested in photo ops, social events, and being the best dressed in Nashville, rather than dealing with issues that affect our communities.
Right now the political leadership within the Black community should be meeting and discussing what they’d like to see happen in the next four years of anyone’s administration. It’s time for specific goals, starting with whether this upcoming new agreement that ostensibly addresses the long-standing disparity in the awarding of contracts is really going to be implemented in a meaningful way. Then examine budget priorities, development goals, administration hiring and keeping a sharp eye on the newly appointed police oversight committee. Will it function as an legitimately independent body or be more an adjunct of the police department (and the influence the FOP wielded in the selection process should be a major concern?) I am proud of those selected, I only have concern about one person, but I will see how this works out.
No candidate should be able to assume they have the Black vote in their pocket. More importantly, again, it is my opinion that there is no credible Black candidate we can see on the current landscape who can win a mayoral election. We are absolutely opposed to any symbolic dog-and-pony show, with a no chance candidate making a bunch of speeches invoking Dr. King and talking about the future while knowing they have no realistic chance of winning. There are too many things that need to be done in our community, and there have been too many tines when our strength has been diluted through stalking horse candidates to let it happen again.
This isn’t about personalities. It’s about effectiveness, sensible political strategy and accountability. Whatever candidate gets Black support must be someone who’s not only willing to campaign for it, but won’t turn their back and ignore our interests once they are in office. If a qualied Black candidate can show us a campaign plan that gives them a reasonable chance at victory, we will do everything we can to rally support behind them. But we’re not interested in another long shot getting less than 10% of the vote, and doing little more than making TV appearances and getting extra money for their campaign war chests.
As the 21st century unfolds, we’re seeing nationwide a resurgence of activism and the emergence of exciting new Black faces on the political scene. The House of Representatives has its most diverse group in history, and the buffoon antics of the President may finally have convinced even the most skeptical and cynical individuals that not participating in elections and withholding your vote is hardly an appropriate or effective method of generating social change.
Neither is voting for folks with no shot at winning. Let’s not waste votes in this next campaign. Make the Black vote count. Then be vigilant to ensure that whoever gets it helps make tangible improvements and changes in our lives and communities.