By Andrew Wilkes
Dear black folks in South Carolina:
The 2016 election, at least for Democrats, may hinge on the direction of your vote. According to Think Progress
: “South Carolina’s poverty rate is ranked ninth highest in the nation, with more than 860,000 people living below the poverty line in 2013. The state also ranks seventh in the percentage of people living in poverty areas. Twenty-seven percent of the state’s children live in poverty and 25 percent live in a food-insecure household, putting it in 45th place in the nation for the well-being of its children.”
The situation, as many of you know firsthand, is dire. For a range of reasons – name ID, employment-related, women’s rights, the performance of the economy writ large during the Clinton years, perhaps children’s healthcare – many of you are planning to vote for Sec. Clinton. All of these are good reasons, great reasons even, to vote for a president. Great reasons, that is, if one believes, as Sec. Clinton has stated, that we can – and must – save capitalism from itself.
I do not share this belief. I suspect many of you do not share it. The question is: can a presidential election help chart a path beyond the unholy trinity of capitalism, racism, and sexism? I think so, but permit me a story first.
I’ve been to the Palmetto State twice in the past four months. A son of Atlanta, I visited you frequently during my childhood and hope to see you again soon. As many of you know, there is a labor song of South Carolina called “We Shall Overcome” That labor song became an anthem of the Civil Rights movement. The Civil Rights movement, you may recall, was powered by church mothers, deacons, preachers, humanists, socialists, centrist Democrats, and folk who were sick and tired of racism wedded to capitalism – both of which collude to oppress ALL folks, particularly black folks, and black women in particular. Prior to supporting the Clintons, many of you in the low-country supported the Reverend Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988, believing a Rainbow coalition could subject the rule of capital to the rule of law, to transition our nation from the aristocracy of whiteness – for whiteness is not an unalloyed thing – and implement democracy at last, especially in the low-country among the sun-kissed sons and daughters of the Palmetto State.
Elections are not the sole catalysts for ending the plantation-imposed, legally-reinforced horrors of racialized capitalism. For that, we need a sustained grassroots movement for participatory democracy, the radical frameworks of womanist intellectuals, the provocations of the sons of DuBois, and much else besides.
Elections are, however, a critical piece of the puzzle. At every level, they shape the terrain upon which the movement advances or retreats.
There is one candidate who is best positioned to claim the legacy of We Shall Overcome, the Rainbow Coalition, and the political philosophy of your beloved – and my beloved – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
There is one candidate who is best positioned to be teachable when confronted, consulted, and perhaps cajoled by movements. And make no mistake: all politicians must be encouraged from the outside to live for the hopes they harbor on the inside. Such is the work of democracy.
There is one candidate whose concern about Wall Street, and credibility to challenge it, is rooted in his outrage about how the foreclosure crisis led to the greatest loss of black wealth in decades. The concern about Wall Street is of one piece with the concern about the robbery of your hard-earned wealth on Calhoun Street, in Hilton Head, and other places affluent and hardscrabble alike.
Both candidates presumably want to use the executive powers of the office of the presidency to the hilt to advance their agenda. One of those candidates is a dedicated public servant and progressive – that is unfashionable to say but seems indisputable to me – who is nevertheless underwritten by Goldman Sachs, Chicago finance, and whatever other wealthy interests can leverage a politician.
That kind of progressivism, no matter how much it clings to gun violence prevention, law enforcement accountability, and our sitting president, does not intend to ignite a nationwide, beyond election season engagement of citizens and residents to change our political economy from BOTH the top-down and bottom-up, from inside and outside Washington. This kind of progressivism does not intend to ignite such engagement because it is a kind of non-aggression pact with capitalism, which this progressivism believes is the greatest form of economic coordination known to humanity. I trust you know, in your hearts, that such progressivism, is, at best, administering systems of charity within an ecology that is fundamentally unjust.
Sen. Bernie Sanders knows that a political revolution – nationwide engagement of citizens and residents to change our political economy this cycle, in midterms, and in a thousand community organizing campaigns/initiatives beyond elections – is needed to change how business is done in Washington, given the divided legislature that currently exists. His name may be unfamiliar to you, but as far as I can tell at this moment, his name can be trusted. He has been a self-described socialist for years, despite the unpopularity and ridicule associated with the label. As a democratic socialist, he is, in some ways, I repeat, carrying forward the civil religion and national tradition of an Atlanta-born, Baptist preacher who has a statute on the National Mall and is the greatest democratic socialist that this nation has produced.
On February 27th, my beloved brothers and sisters of color, students of South Carolina State University, Claflin College, Benedict College, congregants of Mother Emanuel AME, millennials of the Occupy and Black Lives Matter movement, I appeal to you to do two things: first, vote for Sen. Bernie Sanders as the nominee on the Democratic Party line for president; secondly, sustain or start engaging around grassroots democracy and what the Black Women’s Blueprint calls a solidarity economy. We need political education and activity before, during, and beyond elections to transition from the aristocracy of whiteness to a democracy where, at last, our luminous darkness and ebony excellence is centered in the great American Dream of E Pluribus Unum.
Andrew Wilkes is the Principal of Wilkes Advocacy Group and an associate pastor of social justice and young adults at the Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral of New York. An alumnus of Hampton University, Princeton Theological Seminary, and the Coro Foundation’s Fellowship in Public Affairs, his writing has been featured in the Washington Post, BET.com, and the Huffington Post. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @andrewjwilkes
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