Tuesday, May 6, 2014

By Cash Michaels

            The Rev. Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. says he’s coming back “home” to North Carolina to help jumpstart a voter empowerment movement for young people during this election year. And according to Chavis, the activist community of Durham is best suited to lead the charge.
            Dr. Chavis made his remarks Sunday , April 27th during a “Get Out To Vote Rally, sponsored by the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People at Covenant Presbyterian Church, where activist Rev. Jimmy Hawkins is the pastor.
            Chavis said it was crucial that the power of young voters be harnessed in order to combat the Republican drive to build on their iron grip on state government, and the “negative” policies, like voter ID that have ultimately resulted.
            “These are some rough times,” Chavis told those gathered.  “[But] I’m here today to remind us that we’ve had rough times before.”
            “What’s going in the state Legislature, what’s going on in the Governor’s Mansion represents not just those Republicans? It represents a larger reality…somebody voted to put them in power. All of these bad things they have done to hurt people [in North Carolina]…just didn’t happen by themselves,” Dr. Chavis continued.
            In the face of Republican domination, the “challenge” is to reach out to the hundreds of thousands of blacks, Latinos and youth people who currently are not registered to vote, or are orientated to understand what freedoms they have lost since the GOP takeover in North Carolina, and what more could they lose.
            After saying that he would “love to see” the Democrats take back the NC General Assembly in the 2014 midterms, or the Governor’s Mansion in 2016, Chavis added, “…and I don’t think that’s an impossible dream.”
            “We not only have to pray for what is right, but allow ourselves to be GOD’s instruments for further change,” Chavis said, adding that all right-thing people of good will, no matter what their color, must come together to work for change.
            “If you work to make life better for black people in America, you work to make life better for all people in America,” the former leader of the Wilmington Ten said. “But we have to keep pushin’.”
            Chavis pointed to how One Stop – Early Voting numbers for the May 6th primary are slack, and how something must be done to improve those numbers by Election Day.
            “Driving up here I saw a lot of students…a lot of young people on the street. And I’m not so sure how conscious they are that not only can they early vote, but what’s at stake in this election.”
            Dr. Chavis, who was recently nominated to be interim executive director of the NC Democratic Party before moderate Democrats led a smear campaign to kill the effort, called Election Day “payback day,” saying that it is the day that voters kick elected officials out of office who have not served in the public interest.
            “I think the people in the Legislature and the Governor’s Mansion need to be paid back for what they’ve done,” Chavis said to applause. “So who is going to pay them back? I’m not so sure if the people of North Carolina are fighting ready.”
            Chavis said he is willing to come back, at his own expense, to help take part in “turning North Carolina around,” but it has to happen county-by-county. He suggested that Durham County lead the way in that effort because historically it produced “intellectual giants and forward thinking.”
Young people, Dr. Chavis said, are essential to that turnaround.
            “Young people voted in record numbers in 2008 because they got inspired. So what is it on the short term, between now and May 6th, that we can do in North Carolina to inspire and make our young people vote again?’
            Chavis said there must be outreach to the youth, using social media and the modern communications vehicles.
            “There are one million more Democrats than there are Republicans in North Carolina,” Dr. Chavis said. “What kind of calculus is that? How is that mathematically possible? You have one million more Democrats than Republicans, but the Republicans win the elections. That’s a mathematical impossibility, unless we and our allies have let go of not only our enthusiasm, but our sense of calling every day.”
            “There’s no better feeling when you go to sleep at night than knowing that when you wake up, you’re going to help somebody, because when you do, you also help yourself,” Chavis said.
            “Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you can get right back up, he continued. “We’ve hit rock bottom. I don’t think it’s possible to go lower.”
            The former executive director of the NAACP called for a “democracy revival” in North Carolina, saying that the people’s spirituality, politics and economic outlook must all come together to move forward.
            “We have to reassert ourselves. We’ve made so much progress politically, but I think we have to make more progress economically, because one of the reasons why we’re politically weak today is because we’re also weak economically.”
            Dr. Chavis says the African-American community needs to start an economic  “war chest” so that it no longer has to take money from figures like disgraced
Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who was banned from the NBA this week after a recording of his racist rantings was made public last weekend. Sterling had received a “life achievement award” from the Los Angeles NAACP chapter in 2009 despite reports of his being a racist slumlord, and was set to receive another on May 15th at the L.A. NAACP’s Freedom Fund banquet.
            That award, which published reports say was the result of Sterling contributing thousands of dollars to that branch, has since been withdrawn.
            Chavis said with the US Supreme Court rollback on voting rights and affirmative action, in addition to the North Carolina Republican rollback on voting rights, social programming and their assault on the poor and unemployed, are more than enough reasons for people across the state to band together, and vote not just in the May 6th primaries, but November midterm elections in the fall.