Stop Being a "Political Chump"


Even since I began the online petition for the exoneration of Marcus Garvey, I have been on a steep learning curve about politics. I used to think that politics was dirty and that most politicians were moral cowards, but now that I've joined UP-PAC and met many of the candidates who are running for public office in our elections, it's been worse than I imagined. And that's saying a lot.

I'm not saying I was naïve. Based on my experiences in Jamaica, I've always believed that politicians are only interested in gaining power and once they hold office, they want to maintain power. I've also believed that they will do anything to maintain power. But some of the methods that I've witnessed—the sheer deviousness and audacity of their immorality—are astounding.

Still two constants remain. If politicians want to get elected or re-elected, they need money and votes. Preferably both. They immediately gravitate toward anyone or any group that can get them money or votes. Preferably both. And if they have a choice between an uncomfortable issue and getting money, they usually go with the money because they can always use money to buy votes.

One uncomfortable issue for many politicians is the exoneration of Marcus Garvey. The demonization of Marcus Garvey, most notably with the "Garvey Must Go" campaign and Garvey's conviction on false charges, resulted in the besmirching of Garvey's name that has been continued by the media, historians, writers, and politicians. But Marcus Garvey was never a criminal. 

And if he were a criminal, then Garvey's singular crime was the threat he posed to "white privilege"—the automatic deference that people of color—regardless of their talent, wealth, or intellectual abilities—are supposed to bestow on Caucasians based solely on the color of their skin.

Many politicians who wish to "move up in the world" adhere to the unstated assumptions that are built on "white privilege." They stay away from uncomfortable issues because taking a stand would threaten their ability to rise in a system from which they hope to reap social, political, and economic benefits.

If you present politicians with an uncomfortable issue and have enough money, they may just stick their necks out for you. If you don't, fuggedaboutit.

Your only other alternative is to deliver votes. Groups that lack monetary resources lobby candidates who will advance their interests by promising votes.

But here's what I've seen within Caribbean-American community. To date, I have not seen any public requests from Caribbean-American groups to any of the candidates. It seems as if we are going into the next election, just giving away our votes as if they didn't mean anything.

I understand their reticence. It is based on the misguided notion that we are "guests of the nation" and we should stay away from anything controversial. But if you are a tax-paying citizen--the principle on which this nation was founded--you have a right to be involved in the political process.

This is a fact that has been lost on many African-American groups that are sympathetic to Marcus Garvey's philosophies, but have chosen to stay out of politics based on an anachronistic idea of Black nationalistic separatism.

They contend that Marcus Garvey called for the establishment of a Black nation and that any involvement in American politics would be a betrayal of Garveyite principles. But they forget that Marcus Garvey was reacting to the segregationist politics of his time when African Americans could not vote in their own country and that Garvey founded the Peoples Political Party (PPP) in Jamaica and ran for political office.

If Garvey became involved in the political process in Jamaica--a place he called "near to Hell," surely he would have been involved in the political process in the United States, a country that despite his conviction as a political prisoner, he called in his "Last Speech Before Incarceration in the Tombs Prison, New York, U.S.A.: "the greatest democracy in the world."

Besides, Black nationalism, seeing the world through "Black eyes," and political involvement to advance one's interests are not mutually exclusive.

On the other side of the coin, those African-American groups that have chosen to become involved in the political process have also supported the President without any pledge on his part to deliver anything. This must end. There is a common ground: "The thing to do is to get organized; keep separated and you will be exploited" ~Marcus Garvey.

For too long, African-American and Caribbean-American groups have not used or consolidated their power to support causes that advance Pan-Africanist interests. As Malcolm X rightly said, we have been "political chumps" by giving our money and our votes away too cheaply without getting anything in return.

We have to stop being "political chumps." In order to achieve anything politically, you have to "show up at the table." And contrary to what some demagogues are suggesting, the Black vote is critical to Obama's success. If it isn't, then why are Republicans suppressing the vote in Florida?

I know I have been guilty of being a "political chump." In the last election, I was so thrilled that there was a viable African-American candidate, I donated money and voted for Barack Obama in the last election.

But not so this time. I will no longer be a "political chump."

Any politician who requests my vote will have to answer this question:

Do you pledge to support the exoneration of Marcus Garvey?

Now I know, there are those within the Caribbean-American and African-American communities who would caution against such an approach. They argue that in this election year it could become a "wedge issue" to divide the African-American community.

If anything, Marcus Garvey should be an inspiration to African-American leaders. Garvey and the UNIA laid the foundation for the freedoms we now enjoy and he was a major influence on the political thought of Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. President Obama also claimed Marcus Garvey in Dreams from my Father, when he quoted Garvey's famous words: “Up ye might race!” (199).

And here's the thing, an election year is the perfect time to demand a pledge from a candidate. 

Every other group is demanding pledges from the candidates whom they support by either donating cash or promising votes. Or both.

I would also remind those who preach caution that this could have been avoided if the Obama administration hadn't "flatly denied the request for Marcus Garvey's pardon" last year.

So, if not now, when? What incentive would President Obama have next year?

This year, if President Obama wants my vote, he will have to answer this question:

Do you pledge to support the exoneration of Marcus Garvey?

I realize that this may cause a loss of support with some Obama supporters--the natural constituents for this petition--but what's the use of learning something if you don't put it in to ACTION?

I hope you feel as I do and that you will join with me in this:

We are petitioning President Barack Obama to exonerate the Right Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey.



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