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by Dr. Boyce Watkins
First lady Michelle Obama, the wonderful, elegant and intelligent woman that I want my daughters to become, gave a speech at the Congressional Black Caucus convention this past week. I’d left the event before seeing Mrs. Obama give her address, but I was quite curious about her remarks. Just like everyone else, I think that Michelle is amazing, and my greatest fantasy is to one day see her run for the office that is now being occupied by her husband. A woman should be allowed to lead our country, and Michelle is second-to-none.
During the speech, Mrs. Obama argued that voting rights are the new sit-ins. According to the first lady, the struggles of the civil rights movement have been replaced by the fight to get a chance to go to the polls and cast your ballot.
“We cannot let anyone discourage us from casting our ballots. We cannot let anyone make us feel unwelcome in the voting booth. It is up to us to make sure that in every election, every voice is heard and every vote is counted,” Obama said in Saturday remarks.
Using language to reference the civil rights struggle of the 1960s, Mrs. Obama further explained the importance of fighting against new voter id laws.
“This is the march of our time — marching door to door, registering people to vote. Marching everyone you know to the polls every single election,” the first lady said. “This is the sit-in of our day — sitting in a phone bank, sitting in your living room, calling everyone you know — your friends, your neighbors, that nephew you haven’t seen in a while, that classmate you haven’t spoken to in years —making sure they all know how to register, where to vote — every year, in every election.”
“It’s about doing everything we can to carry on the legacy that is our inheritance not just as African Americans, but as Americans — as citizens of the greatest country on Earth,” Obama said.
Not that I would be one to disagree with royalty, but I have to openly ask: Would the Obamas be speaking so readily about voting rights if they didn’t expect all of the people in the audience to vote Democratic? I find it interesting and ironic that the same administration that barely uttered the words “poor” or “black” over the last three years are suddenly trying to dig Dr. King out of the ground to use him for a stage prop.
What is also interesting is that when I see the Obamas address other constituencies, I notice that African Americans are the only ones asked to provide labor necessary to fulfill administrative objectives: “March door-to-door,” “take off your bedroom slippers,” “stop complaining,” “get to work.” I’d be just giddy to see anyone who can provide speech text that shows the Obamas speaking to gay, Hispanic or women’s groups in the same way.
I was confronted on the street at the CBC by a man who seemed to believe that I don’t like President Obama. He seemed to feel that by asking the president to speak on the matters of unemployment inequality, mass incarceration and youth violence, I am somehow disturbing a busy man doing an important job. I had to tell the guy (who leaned toward me as if he wanted to fight) that I consider those dying kids in Chicago, DC and other urban areas to be just as important as beautiful little Sasha and Malia. I also tried to help the man understand that the most you owe any politician is your vote. After that, you are supposed to tell him what you want in exchange, similar to an employer who pays you and then tells you to do your job. Even the Obamas would understand that assessment.
The man also asked me if I agreed with WEB Dubois, who actually said that he would not vote, primarily because neither the Democratic nor Republican Party speaks to the issues that affect African Americans. I didn’t hear hardly anything about minorities or the poor at the recent Democratic National Convention, even though they fully expect the black community to line up like little soldiers and give their support without expecting any form of reciprocity.
When the man asked me if I felt that everyone should vote, I said, “Yes, everyone should vote. But they do not have to vote for a Democrat or Republican.” The man then told me that by supporting a third party candidate, I was wasting my vote. I said, “Actually, you’re wasting your vote if you elect a politician and don’t ask for anything in return.”
After that, I really think the dude wanted to knock me out.
So, while I hate being the one throwing a wet blanket on the Juneteenth of the 21st century, I’d like to correct the first lady on behalf of all of the d**d kids in her home town of Chicago. The sit-ins of the 20th century don’t just consist of having the right to keep the Obamas and their Harvard cronies in power, that’s a personal choice. The sit-ins should include the fight to get politicians to acknowledge the growing wealth gap between blacks and whites without simply telling black folks that it’s due to their laziness and lack of qualification. The new sit-ins should include rallies held when the Obamas come to Chicago for a fancy wedding (as they did for Valerie Jarrett’s daughter) without saying a word about the dozens of black children who were murdered right down the street from their house. The new sit-ins must include speaking up about how black families have been mutilated by the war on drugs and mass incarceration, as little girls pray for their fathers to come home after being given 150 years in prison for drug distribution.
So, Mrs. President, I humbly say this: If you and Barack want people to march for you, you must also be willing to march for them. Fighting for the black right to vote and fighting for nothing else is little more than thinly-veiled elitist pandering that ignores the real issues being faced by black Americans all over the country. It says that you care more about hanging out at charity events with Jay-Z and Beyonce than doing the work of the people. So, the next time you’re on TV teaching Dr. Oz how to do the Dougie, I hope and pray that you will teach him about how the teenager who created the Dougie song was murdered on his grandmother’s porch.
I love First Lady Michelle Obama and I almost lost my job over her. When Bill O’reilly joked about lynching her during the 2008 campaign, I had a head-to-head confrontation with both O’reilly and my university superiors, who wanted me fired over my controversial remarks. But my love for the first lady also means that I have an obligation to tell the truth, and unfortunately, the truth has now become the enemy.
Let’s hope that the Obamas get it right during the second term. Most importantly, we must all get it right and help the Obamas do their jobs by standing up for what matters to us. Having the right to vote is not the only thing we should be fighting for. We should also be fighting for the right to have a VOICE.
Dr Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of YourBlackWorld.net. He also stars in the Janks Morton film, “Hoodwinked,” with Steve Perry, Marc Lamont Hill and Jawanza Kunjufu. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.