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For The Sake of Antwon...

Posted by Elwin Green on March 23, 2019 at 4:00 PM

The "not guilty" verdict in the trial of Michael Rosfeld, the East Pittsburgh police officer who shot unarmed teen Antwon Rose II in the back as Rose fled the scene of an arrest, has sparked protests and other expressions of rage and disgust.


I submit that in order for street protests to be truly effective, they must be combined with other efforts to build economic and political power, in that order (political power always follows and flows from economic power).


So let's talk about political power. In some parts of the country, Black people in America have only been able to vote since 1965. In some parts of the country, Black people are having their right to vote curtailed even now (fox example, in states where the franchise is denied to ex-felons, who are disproportionately black).


In Homewood, which is overwhelmingly Black, people don't vote.


Here is the framework, and some of the numbers, behind that sweeping generalization.


THE FRAMEWORK: Pittsburgh and Allegheny County together are such a Democratic stronghold that the winners in the Democratic primary in any given year will win the general election in nearly all cases.


THE NUMBERS: Homewood is the 13th Ward, made of up nine districts. In the 2007, 2011, and 2015 primary elections, the highest voter turnout among registered Democrats in those nine districts was 28.42 percent.


Again, that was the HIGHEST - in District 3, in 2007.


The lowest 13th Ward turnout in those three elections happened in District 7 in 2011 - 13.71 percent.


(All numbers here are from the Allegheny County Board of Elections website)


Nobody is turning fire hoses on us or siccing attack dogs on us to prevent us from voting. Nobody is hanging us from trees or shooting us to keep us from voting.


WHY ARE WE NOT VOTING?


I'll wait.


Meanwhile, I'll throw this in - In Pittsburgh/Allegheny County, it's not just Black folk who don't vote. NOT VOTING IS THE NORM.


In 2007, there were 541,509 registed Democrats countywide. Out of that number there were 151,594 ballots cast, or 25.51 percent. In 2011, with 544,396 voters, 128,477 ballots were cast (23.60 percent). In 2015, with 507,287 voters, 113,836 ballots were cast (22.44 percent).


In fact, in each of those elections, at least three districts in Homewood had a better turnout than the County as a whole.


But all of the numbers are shameful, and say that all of Allegheny County is politically broken.


Let's face it: a big part of the reason that things happen the way they do here is because we do not elect people to represent us and then hold them accountable. Most of us, most of the time, do not vote. Why should any elected official listen to anyone who doesn't vote, ever?


The Rosfeld verdict creates a moment that could produce change so swiftly that it will appear magical. All of us upset by that verdict can change things IN ONE DAY (May 21, to be exact), if we do two things - vote, and encourage others to vote.


We must learn, not only to vote, but to move down the ballot, to learn about positions we may not even know are elected positions. We ELECT judges. We ELECT district attorneys. Not voting keeps them in office.


(If you are on Facebook, you gotta read Keith Reed's excellent post of March 20.)


Here is an easy example: Stephen A. Zappala has been the county District Attorney since January, 1998. In 2007, 2011, AND 2015, no one even challenged him in the primaries. In 2015, out of 507,287 Democratic voters, a mere 92,040 voted for him. That means that 414,623 DIDN'T, but it was still enough to keep him in office.


This year, he has a challenger. Later, I'll do posts on him and a bunch of other candidates. For now, this is my point- on May 21, we WILL send a message to those in power: The message will either say, "Don't f*** with us," or it will say, "Keep doing what you're doing."


If we vote, we can send the first message. If we don't vote, we WILL send the second - and it will be louder than any protests.

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2 Comments

Reply Jamil Bey
6:49 PM on March 25, 2019 
There are lots of reasons that people opt out of participating in elections. Very often there is no one on the ballot that seems worthy of the effort or that may represent the interests of the people. Leaving the perception that it will business as usual That's not an excuse - but it does help to understand things. In addition to casting a vote - we have to prepare candidates to represent us and we have to hold them accountable.
Having said that - in this election season we do have a candidate for District Attorney, Turahn Jenkins, who is worthy of our attention and vote. Get out and vote!
Reply Elwin Green
1:01 AM on March 26, 2019 
Dr. Bey - thanks for your thoughts. I know about the feeling that there's no one worth voting for - or even that neither of the two major parties is worth our vote. But I'd also say that it is precisely because things are SO screwed up that we MUST find ways twork effectively for change. And that voting is a place to start.

But a big YES from me to this: "we have to prepare candidates to represent us." I DON'T RECALL EVER HEARING ANYONE SAY THAT - at least, not in a public forum. My entire life as a citizen has hinged on having candidates simply appear, and then trying to figure how to choose among them. Being part of a process to prepare candidates sounds so radically different (and attractive!) that I have to ask, "How would you see that happening?"