Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Hello From the Other Side

The results are in and Reverend Senator Raphael Warnock gets to keep his seat for a full six-year term. Herschel Walker can move back to Texas, his son Christian can reactivate his OnlyFans account, and we can focus our attention on something other than saving democracy for the next couple of weeks. But just until MLK weekend...

I had been working on another think piece linking Wakanda Forever to my experiences last month as an Election Protection poll monitor, but let's put that aside for now to address some of the more urgent issues that were raised by this nail-biter of a runoff. Because from this side of the ideological divide, this election should not have been this close.

A lot of folks have memes and jokes and I have a few of my own, but in all seriousness, we need to be very concerned that there was a runoff and that Herschel Walker was still a viable candidate. The man's skeletons had skeletons and all of it was messy AF. While y'all were making jokes about his werewolf and vampire comparisons, he was telling that to an assembled audience of folks who then went to the polls and voted for him. In fact, 1.7 million people did that.

Those of us from the other side are shaking our heads in disbelief, but also praising God that Walker lost. I assume his supporters are taking this hard and are regrouping. Just know that the response will be not to make the same mistake twice, so we've been warned. However, we need to understand how we got here in the first place by dispelling the notion that Herschel Walker was recruited to draw Black voters away from the good Rev. Raphael Warnock. It never mattered to those folks whom we would have supported because they didn't believe our votes were valid in the first place. Never forget that the insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol went there to force Members of Congress to invalidate the Black votes from Georgia (along with the Latinx and Indigenous votes from several other states), so that premise was wrong from the outset.

Nor should we be relieved that the more 'respectable' candidate won. They aren't all that concerned about respectability either, given that just five years ago the voters in Alabama nearly sent an alleged pedophile to the Senate. And they are still poised to vote for the Orange Julius Caesar in two years, so don't let any of this talk about restoring American values trick you into believing that their longing for the days of Ozzie and Harriet are wholesome.

It is always about power and keeping it to themselves.

Not that I didn't know that already, but it made so much sense to me during my recent work in Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia for the election last month. Someone thought it was a good idea to assign me to a few suburban voter precincts, and let me tell you, the view from the other side is quite different. They got lots of nice stuff out there...

And they want to keep it that way. They don't want Lotti, Dottie and errybody coming up in their exclusive spaces. They immediately feel threatened like we're casing the joint, so they have their security guards, those fancy doorbell cameras, and stockpiles of guns lest we get too close or our fingers too sticky.

For instance, did you know that out in the suburbs, they don't lock the deodorant behind those theft deterrent shields? Apparently, nobody wants to contend with an inconvenienced Karen who just needs to run in to grab a few things on her way to meet her friends for coffee. In the city where I live, the folks at the CVS aren't at all phased about what else I might need to do other than wait for the cashier to find the manager with the key. Where else am I going to go, to a Walgreens with the same setup?

I was stationed in familiar outposts in Northern Virginia, but still far enough away to have been noticeable as an outsider. At the two precincts located just outside of Charlotte in North Carolina, I took lots of mental notes of my surroundings. The first day I was stationed at the Town Hall which was located near an old-fashioned railroad junction. Across the tracks there was a town center anchored by a grocery store with all of the usual retail options such as a nail salon, dry cleaners, and a barber shop. In the shopping center adjacent to the polling place, there was another grocery store. There were landscapers and workers preparing to hang Christmas decorations from the light posts. I greeted the other campaign volunteers who had an entire area reserved for their snacks and coffee. There were even a few actual candidates who spent the bulk of the day meeting voters and exchanging pleasantries. I was literally in a modernized downtown Mayberry where everyone was polite and friendly, just like on TV.

In my hyper-vigilance as a veteran poll monitor, I got suspicious that a police car had driven up and parked at the front entrance of the precinct. I mentioned to one of the campaign volunteers that I was heading over to investigate, and she said "Oh, he's here to make sure that everything is okay" and sure enough, no one was intimidated by his presence. They just kept to their business and after about 30 minutes he left (later I learned that Sheriff Taylor came from the police station across the street). Midafternoon as the line got a little longer, and more than a handful of Black people were gathered (because at that point, it had just been me, myself and Irene), I walked over to get a closer look. I met Congresswoman Alma Adams (D-NC), and we had a nice chat about the Voting Rights Act, lawsuits over redistricting, and the big barbecue that had been hosted by a local AME church (from which no one brought me a plate, but I digress). 

Just another beautiful day in the neighborhood. One woman I met had brought her dog to spend the day as a campaign mascot for a local candidate. He slept most of the day in her antique convertible that was parked a few yards away, so I found it rather ironic to overhear her complain about the state of the economy and feeling unsafe due to the increase in crime. 

But who am I to judge the economic anxieties of others? What do I know about having to do price comparisons between the Food Lion and the Harris Teeter a mile apart, or the hassle of clipping coupons when it is actually a bigger deal for me to find a grocery store in my parents' neighborhood? Do your worries about crime in your gated community mean that your homeowner's association dues will increase to cover the cost of hiring a security guard? Or is it anything like the gun violence that is a daily feature on the local news in the inner city? 

When I went canvassing by myself in the dark after I completed my poll monitoring shifts, I wasn't all that worried. I was in Davidson, a college community where people literally had their front doors open and possibly their cars unlocked. If anything, I'm shocked that no one called the police on me, not even when I was walking around in the rain down their dimly lit streets. The next day, I did arouse some suspicion from the Black residents on the other side of the tracks who were more concerned about me working on a Sunday. 

I requested to be stationed in Athens for Election Day, which as a college town probably doesn't count as a suburb, but close enough. I had Monday off, so I took a trip down to Atlanta and visited my own college campus. In a comparison between small college towns, Davidson and Athens weren't that different, except that Athens is larger. I have often described my time in the Atlanta University Center as a small college community within a big city. That description is still apt, but we don't have the same imprint in Southwest Atlanta (the SWATS) as the University of Georgia has over all of Athens. While the residential parts of the neighborhood surrounding the AUC have changed dramatically over these past 30 years, the West End commercial strip looks exactly the same, including the Taco Bell that is still there on Lee Street! Davidson and UGA students have access to cute restaurants, bars, and shops; however, we've got the better theme song (because it truly is a different world).

Aside from all of those material differences and distinctions, one of the more pernicious ways of framing the divide in the political parlance is to suggest that what we want is what they have, but how we are undeserving. As in, we have to deserve equal treatment and citizenship, jobs, decent housing, and even clean water. Someone reading that might accuse me of being hyperbolic while failing to recall that just 60 years ago Black people were protesting in the streets for the right to be served coffee and food at Southern lunch counters. Of course, it was always bigger than integrated coffee which is why our other demands for basic dignity have required the same intensity of effort. And with every demand, someone in power is conferring with his colleagues and asking What do these people want now

The same things that have always been touted as the inalienable birthright of every American--life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. So yeah, a lot more than the kind of superficial integration that elevated Walker to the status of UGA football icon. Winning the Heisman trophy and playing professional football worked out great for him personally, and if that makes him a hero in the eyes of those who voted for him, that's fine. The fact that he has been less than heroic in his personal life is also his business, but problematic for someone who cited his character and faith as his primary attributes for office. That and the fact that he doesn't even live in the state...

Set aside all of those contradictions and what we saw was a contest between two Black men with two different motivations for seeking office. With all due respect to many of my friends who took umbrage to the idea of a less than erudite ex-football player serving in the Senate, I need to point out that there are no qualifications outlined in the Constitution that would have given one man the advantage over the other. They wanted the Buck; we wanted the Preacher. Truth be told, a former professional football player is no different than any other celebrity who has considered politics when being a has-been isn't enough. Some of this country's most beloved politicians were former entertainers.

I was more offended that Herschel Walker had agreed to be the mascot for an agenda that perpetuates the fear among the people who have always had everything that we, the unwashed riffraff, have come to steal from them. You see, Walker left our community a long time ago, not because he went to UGA and then went on to be successful football player. He left us to join the other side when he adopted their trickle down, up by your bootstraps, let them eat cake mentality and never looked back. As long as everything was good for him down at Southfork Ranch, then everything was peachy.

If he had cared about the people of Georgia, then he wouldn't have needed to be enticed to temporarily relocate there for this sham. Take a good look at his campaign biography and show me where he has been working to improve the lives of the people he claims to care so much about. Oh wait, he's a job-creator, so was his company's use of unpaid labor by imprisoned drug offenders an example of his Christian charity? Did Walker express any opinion on SB 202 and how it might have suppressed the youth vote in Athens, where he went to college? (Because it did, and I saw it in operation as a poll monitor on Election Day.)

When we lament how close this election was, we are operating under the delusion that the fears of Walker's supporters should not have compared to our hopes. Now that we know that hope and fear were evenly matched, like I said, they won't make this mistake twice. And we shouldn't be all that relieved by Warnock's margin of victory when his totals in the runoff fell short of the number of votes he received in the general. He received more support when he ran against Kelly Loeffler, so we need to question why more than 960,000 voters stayed home this time.

Finally, because I need to bring this all together, the reference to the conversation I had with Rep. Adams (D-NC) about redistricting wasn't just some random anecdote I included to floss, but a real issue that will continue to impact how we organize and mobilize voters throughout the South. When I tell you that the people who have everything don't think that we deserve anything nice, that includes the ability to elect our own representatives to Congress and to state legislatures. Local and national representation gives us a say over how resources are allocated, and if elected officials from our communities are demanding more equitable distribution of said resources and that results in one less thing for them, then they will draw us into a box and dare us to cross the lines. That's how we got SB 202 and all of its suppressive impact.

And to prove that we're wrong about calling those tactics Jim Crow 2.0, they just overwhelmingly voted for a Heisman trophy to represent them in the U.S. Senate. Even though he lost, they get to forever point to the fact that they supported him the way that so many of them claim they would have marched with MLK in the 60s. But (and here's the rub), they don't want their children to feel bad that their grandparents once opposed going to school with Charlayne Hunter-Gault and Hamilton Holmes at the same University of Georgia. (I know that's a different issue, but it is all inter-related.)

From the other side, where we see things in color and aren't as covetous as you'd like to think, we wanted someone who would fight for those who have less. Yes, we laughed at a lot of what Herschel Walker said, but we also listened and heard nothing that would improve our lives in the hood. Our families work just as hard for a lot less, so we don't care which spokesperson you choose if the message never changes and the results are always the same. Y'all who drive past our neighborhoods to get to your dog parks, yarn stores, sit-down restaurants, and overpriced sandwich shops, seriously thought that the high price of eggs would be more persuasive than protecting democracy. That's an even bigger joke than Herschel Walker in the Senate. 

No comments:

Post a Comment