Follow @MediaDervishI have never been a fan of Black History Month. It’s a well-meaning tradition, but how do you relegate centuries of African-American achievement to 28 or 29 days in February? The commemoration has commercialized, commoditized and trivialized.A case in point: The photo of a store exhibit that went viral a few years ago. A sign, Walgreens Celebrates Black History Month hangs over a display of jumbo cotton balls.Last week, an effort by Chicago-area civil rights groups got my attention.OPINION
They want to raise awareness of the “racial disparity in law enforcement,” reports the Chicago Sun-Times. And make the point that voting counts.
“Everything that we are doing in the community, any event that we have leading up to the primary and general election, we’re trying to emphasize the importance of voting. Black History Month is a key part of that,” announced Shari Runner, Chicago Urban League president and CEO.
The groups will deploy registrars at Black History month events, as well as events such as candidates’ forums.
“Knowing what we know now about how important several of the races are, in Chicago and statewide, that people need to be engaged, and vote based on whom they believe the best person to address issues facing the black community, Black History Month becomes a critical opportunity,” Runner noted.
Knowing what we know, about our ancient, sorrowful black history. For at least 50 years, black Chicagoans have suffered torture, brutality, corruption,discrimination and disrespect from the police.
Black voices are taking names.They want the politicians out. Mayor Rahm Emanuel must resign. Gov.Bruce Rauner, no more. Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, begone.They are not going on their own.In 2014, black elected officials and progressive organizing groups plunged beaucoup bucks and muscle behind voter registration efforts to defeat Rauner, the Republican gubernatorial nominee. Chicago’s voter turnout in the general election was down by 7 percent.Rauner has rewarded Chicago and Illinois with an 8-month budget stalemate that is crippling social services, public education and other programs that African Americans rely on most.In April of 2015, Emanuel’s seat had never been hotter. Blackcritics blamed him for closing dozens of schools, rampant crime, and tepid economic development.In the mayoral runoff, African-American voters rewarded Emanuel with “on average, 57 percent of the vote in those South and West side wards,” about the same percentage in his first election in 2011, showed an analysis by WBEZ. Only about 40 percent of registered voters bothered to turn out.Meanwhile, the Emanuel administration was putting the final, secretive touches on a massive, $5 million payout to Laquan McDonald’s family. The black teenager was shot to death by Chicago police.Now black voices want to unseat Alvarez in the March 15 primary. Theyhave taken to the streets and social media. They are blasting the two-term incumbent for foot-dragging on the prosecution of Police Officer Jason Van Dyke, who shot McDonald 16 times.Alvarez argues it was a complex case and that she was working closely on a joint investigation with state and federal investigators.
In a new Chicago Tribune poll, Alvarez has a 7 percent lead on her two opponent. Yet a whopping 85 percent of black voters said they were not satisfied with her explanation in the McDonald case.
Five weeks from the March 15 primary, I detect no street buzz indicating that black voters will demonstrate their distrust and anger at the polls.
Will this election will be an ignominious chapter in black history?
Follow Laura Washington on Twitter: Follow @MediaDervish