January 4, 2011

Thoughts on a New Year

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

With the New Year upon us, let us reflect for a moment about our community and the progress we have made: past, present and future.  It has now been 144 years since Ezekiel Gillespie fought for black suffrage and became the first African American to vote in Wisconsin.  And it was 55 years ago that the civil rights movement began, leading to historic legislation, including the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act.  In the past two years we have seen the election of our first African American President, the appointment of the first African American Attorney General and the first African American County Executive.  Yet despite these achievements, there are still issues that we must overcome – and voting consistently in every election is one.

This past November, the Democratic Party saw historic losses on Election Day. This was due, in part, to voter apathy in the black community.  In 2008, over 11 percent of the Wisconsin vote came from African Americans.  In 2010, this number was less than 9 percent.  Political experts say this drop off is two-fold.  First, mid-term elections tend to receive less attention from the media and the public.  And Secondly, President Obama excited African Americans to vote in 2008 and created a surge in our community.  While this may be true, we cannot stop paying attention each mid-term election or each time we do not have a major African American candidate to vote for.  Remember, black people came out more to vote for Tom Barrett than Jim Doyle, however the number of African-Americans who did not vote in 2010, who had voted in 2008, were Barrett’s eventual margin of defeat.

As I walk around the great city of Milwaukee, I see countless residents yearning to express themselves.  Express their dreams, hopes, or ambitions.  These times are too important to not express yourself and raise your voice through voting.  It is your Constitutional right and it must be exercised each election.  People are struggling.  Struggling to find a job, to pay the rent, to put food on the table.  While an election cannot feed a family or pay an electric bill, it can put leaders in place who will fight for the programs and policies our community needs and should demand.  While corporations continue to dump millions of dollars into candidates who only stand up for the wealthy and powerful, one thing will always hold true:  one person, one vote.  And all the money in the world cannot stop the will of the people from being carried out.

For the poor and less fortunate among us, elections make you a force to heard. There is an election in February for many local offices including County Executive and County Board.  Make sure you learn about all the candidates and choose those who will protect the interest our community and who will make bold, real reforms.

On New Year’s Eve 1863, African Americans all over our nation gathered as the clock struck midnight to celebrate the Emancipation Proclamation taking effect, in which President Abraham Lincoln declared all slaves to be free from that moment forward. Today, in our community, many still gather at ‘watch parties’ to remember this historic occasion.  Through elections we can continue this legacy of freedom and the feeling of a new day dawning.  As a state senator, I encourage everyone to look toward a future, bright with possibilities, but also take time to think back to our past.  Think of where we have been and where we are going.   

As we enter 2011, we have the chance to begin anew with the conviction and determination to be heard. Let us move toward a better future together, refusing to stand silent in the face of adversity.  Make sure to be informed, involved, and most importantly:  make your voice heard and vote this February.