Insight News

Feb 10th

What does a vote for Barack Obama really mean?

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By H. Terrell Smith

What does a vote for Barack Obama really mean? It's strange; everyone I talk to seems to have different opinions about it, whether they're young or old, male or female, everyone has something to say. What does a vote for Barack Obama really mean? It's strange; everyone I talk to seems to have different opinions about it, whether they're young or old, male or female, everyone has something to say.

I'm African American and I have four children; two of my children are in high school and the other two are in grade school. What excites me about the Obama candidacy is slightly off of the beaten path. I live in Illinois and I've been voting Democratic since I first started voting in 1979. I couldn't believe it; we were trying hard to elect a Black mayor, and another brother was running for state comptroller. In 1979 we won the statewide race for comptroller and four years later we were all part of electing Harold Washington to be the first Black mayor for the city of Chicago in 1983. It was an unforgettable experience for a young guy like me.

Illinois sort of represents what our entire country looks like; it's about 75% white, 14% Black, and has a growing Hispanic and Asian population. Even though African Americans are a minority in Illinois, the Harold Washington campaigns for mayor in 1979 and 1983 gave us a blueprint of how to convince our democratic party to support candidates from our community in local and statewide elections. The first African American to win statewide here was Roland Burris for state comptroller in 1979. After 1991 we ran him for attorney general and won. In 1993 ran Carol Moseley Braun, and she became the first African American female to win a United States senate seat. There are two men from our community currently serving our state: U.S. Senator Barack Obama and Secretary of State Jesse White. They both won statewide elections by huge margins, even though Blacks are a minority group within the state of Illinois. So far we have elected more African Americans to statewide executive leadership positions than any other state in our country. There is a very important reason why we have been so successful.

The crucial lesson we learned from the 1979 Roland Burris and Harold Washington campaigns is to use the "primary" elections as leverage to ensure accountability from our local or state political parties. We learned that if you are seeking real leadership positions within your party, you have to endorse the candidate from your community in the primary election. This action forces the political party establishment to: 1) work for and endorse the community's candidate in the general election or 2) work for and endorse the community's agenda in the general election, for fear of losing the community's support or vote once again in the general election. In Illinois, we have learned, there is no option three for the political party establishment, because winning the election is their ultimate goal.

We learned that the state political party can only gain power through local elections, so they will support whomever you select in the primaries – the primaries are the keys to the party accountability vehicle. Illinois politics has proved that if you want real leadership or influence within your political party's establishment, you first have to withhold their payday (votes) in the primary until they do all their work for you before the general election. Then, and only then, have they earned their pay (votes) for the general election. The process works; we keep proving it election after election, over and over again. Action, not words, has to take place in the primary election if you want a seat and influence at the head of the table in the general election. This political strategy holds the party and the candidates accountable to the community, because the political parties need success in the general elections to maintain power over the opposing political party.

So needless to say, I am extremely pleased about the political opportunities the presidential campa

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