Your Vote Counts Here | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Your Vote Counts Here

Imagine a state where moderates have as loud a voice as extreme conservatives. Imagine a state where it's considered cool to be progressive. A state where young people are drawn to politics so they can help people, not corporations. A state where your vote counts.

Imagine the state of Mississippi as it can be.

Last week, I asked a former elected official in the state if it is possible for a coalition of reasonable and progressive thinkers to make up a majority of voters in Mississippi. Of course, he replied. There are more of us than there are of them.

More of us. Think about that. In the state of Mississippi, a majority of citizens are not extremist conservatives. In the voting booth, probably most would vote the Democratic ticket or for moderate fiscal Republicans, or for even more liberal candidates such as the Greens. But not enough bother to vote. African Americans make up 37 percent of our population, according to the last census, and they overwhelmingly vote Democratic. Imagine that a majority of that populace decided to go to the polls Nov. 5, along with the 20 percent of the state's white residents who consider themselves Democrats or moderates. That would be some coalition, eh?

Progressives in Mississippi haven't come together in a meaningful way. We've been divided and conquered. Many white progressive Jacksonians believe they live in a conservative city, but they don't—if they remember to count the entire population. Politically speaking, whites and blacks in this state still live in a separate-but-roughly-equal world with people of other races stuck in the middle, barely aligned with anyone politically. And, from what I've seen, way too much vaguely racist fingerpointing goes both directions from people of somewhat-like minds who should be working together to lessen the conservative stranglehold on the state.

For instance, I frequently hear criticism of Councilman Kenneth Stokes' or Rep. Bennie Thompson's or Mayor Harvey Johnson's intellect or motives or efficiency but little substantive discussion of what they've actually done right or wrong. That flows the other way, too. Too many blacks are quick to ridicule liberal whites and "do-gooders" who may truly want to build coalitions with them. Guess who these divisions benefit? It sure ain't progressives of any race.

This stand-off has reached a crisis point, especially when it comes to engaging younger people in Mississippi's political system. Unless you're a young, rock-solid conservative, there may seem to be little room for you in the state. I know how it feels: I left back in 1983 at age 22 because I didn't believe I could explore my progressive (but not radical) ideas here. And I have no doubt that some interests in this state like it that way. The status quo has always been a near indestructible force, ironically because they've convinced the rest of us they're indestructible.

You know, though, they're really not. Thanks to the Civil Rights Movement, all of us have the right to vote. Sure, conservatives have tried to gerrymander as many non-conservatives as possible into a proverbial livestock pen so that a state with a majority of moderate-to-liberal thinkers are barely represented in Washington. But the progressive majority of the state does have power if we will choose to exercise it. We need to register and turn out to vote. We need to work with younger people to make civic participation and voting relevant again. And we all must cross racial and economic barriers to start working together, even if we disagree every now and then.

I'm not calling for a revolution. Not exactly. Call me naïve, but I still believe in working within the system, and voting ourselves into being the system if enough of us decide that's what needs to happen. The biggest challenge, though, is not the system itself. It's our own indifference.

The apathy roadblock is tough to knock down. It has such a plethora of causes: decline in reading and critical thinking; bombardment by television and marketing images; attacks on humanities and liberal-arts education; the escalation of big money into political campaigns; disappointment in elected officials such as Bill Clinton and non-elected ones such as Jessie Jackson; or public servants who forget their roots and how they overcame obstacles; and now the devastating effects of last year's Sept. 11 attacks.

Many young people today, from teens to early 30s, believe they have no voice in their own government. Why bother? they ask. All the candidates suck anyhow. And, truth be known, it's not like an alternative party or candidate has emerged that can truly excite a diverse coalition of young, progressive thinkers on the national or state level. It wasn't Ralph Nader; he doesn't show the energy and passion to truly ignite a diverse new generation.

In an election such as Ronnie Shows vs. Chip Pickering in the Third Congressional District, it's easy to ask: What has Pickering or Shows done for a smart, young, compassionate, thinking Mississippian lately? Not a whole bunch. And it's not like Ronnie Shows is a card-carryin' civil libertarian.

But, Third District progressives, we all should go to the polls and vote for Shows Nov. 5. We can't afford not to; too much rides on keeping the Bush administration from continuing its attempts to transform the U.S. into a near-theocracy where the Constitution is only glanced at when it's convenient. And, sadly, I'm not being hyperbolic. We have to keep a diligent eye on the activist judges who extremist conservatives hope will help dismantle civil-rights and voting protections that it took so many years to get into place. This is not acceptable. Remember: Every time you deny the system your vote, you're giving it exactly what it wants: your apathy.

The real work comes between elections. It's about paying attention and participating in your community and holding elected officials accountable. It's about helping shape a new paradigm in politics, caring about people while reining in excesses, demanding meaningful campaign-finance reform, and safeguarding the rights of individuals over corporate interests.

Voting is about believing that we can come together with other reasonable-minded citizens and make things better. Just think about it: If this country can overcome slavery and Jim Crow laws, union busts and Communist witch hunts—and if brave men and women like Bob Moses and Dave Dennis and Unita Blackwell can offer their heads to billy clubs to give all our citizens the right to vote—the least we can do is exercise it. Then, and only then, can we start on the road to meaningful change. Imagine.

Does your vote count? Damn right it does—if you choose to use it.

Donna Ladd is editor-in-chief of the Jackson Free Press and a native of Neshoba County.

Previous Comments

ID
68315
Comment

I admire what you're trying to do here, but do you really think Shows is going to oppose Bush? (There's an email going around "activist" circles that is pretty good on voting--not to say I completely agree with it but it makes you think: http://www.bopsecrets.org/PS/joyrev.htm) We can make a difference, but it's probably not going to be through voting, or at the very least, we shouldn't be dedicating all of our thought and effort into voting.

Author
Jason Hicks
Date
2002-10-28T15:58:34-06:00
ID
68316
Comment

Jason, I sure never said to dedicate all our thought and effort into voting. One of my biggest concerns right now is keeping extreme conservatives from having the ability to stack the courts even further over the next two years, and voting for Democratic leadership in one House, or both, will provide some balance. Whether or not you're a fan of Shows, your vote for him could make the difference in what judges are appointed and who will, in turn, try to block any progressive efforts for years to come. No, there is so much more to do than vote. But voting doesn't take long; then we can get down to other vital business. Believe me: You'll keep hearing our ideas about that well past this election. Meantime, though, thanks so much for writing and sharing your thoughts. We'd love to hear your ideas for making a difference. Donna

Author
ladd
Date
2002-10-28T16:17:44-06:00
ID
68317
Comment

Donna, I believe you are quite wrong in saying that our state is run by, as you call it, ultra-conservatives. Our state has had a majority of Democrats in the Senate, House, State Governments, County Governments, and City Governments since Reconstruction. If there is anyone you should criticize it shouldn't be the "ultra Conservatives." Rather, you should criticize your Democrats or progressives, who in fact have set this state back so far, it would take a miracle to bring us to new ground. And lastly, what Governer brought more revenue and finacial success to Mississippi? The "ultra conservate" or rather just Republican Kirk Fordice. Thanks

Author
John Sawyer
Date
2002-10-28T17:16:26-06:00
ID
68318
Comment

Hi John, thanks very much for writing. I appreciate your point of view, although I doubt we could ever agree that Kirk Fordice was a positive force for Mississippi, so I won't try to convince you. ;-) A couple of factual points, though: I never used the phrase "ultra-conservative," although I did refer to extremist conservative dogma, which indeed is quite evident in the state, although I certainly do not believe it represents the majority of Jacksonians or Mississippians. And it's important to note that I do not use the words "Democrat" and "progressive" interchangeably, just as I do not believe that "Republican" and "conservative" are necessarily one and the same, and certainly weren't historically (although in the current presidential administration they are). If you keep reading the Free Press, you will learn that I am as likely to criticize Democrats as Republicans if they do not have what I consider to be the people's interests at heart (and that, for instance, this progressive supported Bill Clinton's impeachment).

Author
ladd
Date
2002-10-28T21:54:16-06:00
ID
68319
Comment

(Ladd, continued; wouldn't all fit above) And it would be naive of me to argue that Democrats have historically been the panacea for what ails this state. That simply is not factual, current personalities aside. For one, we all know that the same Democratic Party has not ruled the state since Reconstruction. As you know, the old segregationist Democratic Party became the more conservative Republican Party, the precursor to today's GOP, in the 1960s in direct response to national Democratic support for civil-rights legislation. The two parties switched, in other words, with Republicans crowded on the segregationist side and Democrats on the inclusive side (although it took a while for the party switch to filter down through state politics): thus, it's overly simplistic to try to argue that a Democratic governor of today, for instance, would have been a Democrat in, say, 1963. I definitely would agree that old Mississippi Democrats set this state back a long way -- even before they became the Republicans of today. And some of those same people, as Republicans, aren't doing us much better today. The same goes for many Democrats. Frankly, I'm not a partisan; I'm rather sick of both major parties right now, and not quick to defend either one -- although I do believe one certainly is worse -- and devastatingly so -- for the everyday American, and our civil liberties, than the other at this moment. The very freedom on which we stand is at stake. As we saw in the 1960s, thanks largely to Mississippi's resistance to integration, party ideals can quickly change. But the people's ideals, and the freedoms this nation are built on, must be kept tantamount, no matter whether the donkeys or the elephants are leading the parade. Donna

Author
ladd
Date
2002-10-28T21:55:42-06:00
ID
68320
Comment

I don't think you can support your statement that Mississippi is a state with "a majority of moderate-to-liberal thinkers". It is what you feel or think but not something you can support with hard numbers. You didn't live here when Governor Fordice was in charge. While you may be as "likely" to criticize Democrats as Republicans, I'm guessing I'll read your criticism of Republicans much more frequently than I will read something critical you have written about Democrats.

Author
Smitty
Date
2002-11-04T13:00:28-06:00
ID
68321
Comment

Smitty, thanks for writing. I do so love a challenge! ;-D I kind of doubt I'll convince you today that most people in the state are moderate or liberal, although I would suggest to you that even many fairly conservative Republicans here would at least say they're "moderate," so it might not be as hard as you'd think to reach this conclusion in a pseudo-scientific fashion. But I'm reaching it in a more provocative way: I believe that most Mississippians, not just Mississippians who vote, would vote for moderate or more liberal candidates if they went to the polls. This is an easy conclusion to draw if you look at voting patterns and demographics in the stateóand I'd dare say it's long been a fear of many conservatives in the state, dating back to poll-tax days and even further back. There was a reason they had to keep people out of the poll booth. If the conservative status quo didn't think it would lose control if everyone voted, it's really hard to understand the lengths they then went to (and still often do) in order to keep certain groups from voting, or certain votes from being counted. I believe thoroughly that if more Mississippians became engaged in the political process and simply went to vote that the climate would change dramatically and, in turn, encourage more young progressives to stay in the state and help it shed its No. 50 image. You are indeed right; I lived away when Gov. Fordice ruled the state and demanded that only "positive Mississippi" be spoken here, although my family was here all along. And I did used to listen to Ross Barnett perform at the Neshoba County Fair every year; surely that counts for something. I invite you to keep a partisan scorecard of my criticism if you'd like. In some ways, you'll probably be surprised. Like Jackson Free Press columnist Jim Hightower, I'm much more of a progressive and a populist than a partisan. Perhaps that's because I've watched the parties change with the wind due to race and other difficult issues. But, you are certainly right that at this terrifying moment in time, the Republicans are the ones to watch as they attack our civil liberties, promote corporate rights over individual rights, and try to roll back the very freedoms that make this country special and great. But way too many Democrats are going along with that program, and my eye is squarely trained on them as well.

Author
Ladd
Date
2002-11-04T13:20:26-06:00

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