Hip-Hop Fridays: Jeffrey Johnson's (BET's "Cousin Jeff") Open Letter In Response To The Controversy Over His Decision To Support The Campaign of J. Kenneth Blackwell for Governor Of Ohio.
Over the past few days I have been run through the blog and email world as a traitor, an undercover operative, a money chaser, a republican sellout, and many other things. I have been talked about and attacked by people that I have considered colleagues, and in some cases friends, without a phone call or email to inquire about my decision. I have had professional contracts cancelled and future contract negotiations halted all as a result of my announcement Friday August 11, 2006 to officially support the campaign of J. Kenneth Blackwell for Governor of the state of Ohio.
However, I am not angry, bitter, resentful, or moved to retaliate. Infact I understand my brothers and sisters who question my decision, are angered by my decision, and even feel betrayed. Many of you out there think that I have lost my mind; some think that I have sold out, and others think I am chasing money.
This letter comes as my opportunity to tell the people whom I work for (my community) and work with my reasons for making such a difficult intellectual, emotional, and spiritual decision.
First and foremost I am not nor do I have plans to become a member of or work for the Republican Party. When the press release announcing my support speaks to “working for the campaign” it means that I will be on the road speaking about the issues that I believe in and the need for urban and young people to come out and vote. Finally I AM NOT AN EMPLOYEE OF THE CAMPAIGN OR RECIEVEING COMPENSATION PERSONALLY OR THROUGH MY COMPANY FOR MY ENDORSEMENT. I have asked the Campaign to cover Health Insurance coverage costs that I have lost as a result of my endorsement of Blackwell and the campaign has agreed. My first priority is to make sure my children are protected, HOWEVER, the work that I do has never been about chasing the dollars and it never will be.
Beyond that, it is impossible to assess my decision without looking at the historical and current implications of the black political universe in America. Reconstruction thrust former African slaves into a period of being players in the political games of the US as opposed to simply being political pawns used by one side or the other. It was the party of Lincoln, the Republican Party, that former slaves embraced feeling that the party was dedicated to advancing their social and political best interest. Not until the early days of the Civil Rights movement did it become apparent that the Democrats were more interested in pushing for the legislative changes at the legal, state, and federal level that would provide blacks with a better quality of life than the Republicans. And so “we” shifted our party loyalty from the Republicans to the Democrats.
What made our shift to the Democratic Party so different from our time with the Republicans was that we now had institutions like the NAACP, SCLC, and others that were responsible for making and maintaining “our” political alliances. During the Civil Rights Movement these organizations and their leadership were responsible for ensuring that those alliances translated into social and political change. And they did. The passage of both the Civil and Voting Rights Acts were in part due to the political alliances made by those like Roy Wilkins and others working in connection with grassroots activists. However, after the death of the Kennedy’s’ and King we saw yet another shift.
That post-civil rights shift brings us in many cases to where we currently exist: the era of the professional activist. The post civil rights leadership provided by many we know and some we don’t know has been both incredibly effective in some areas and simultaneously negligent in others. We have seen great gains by many people of color as a result of much of their work. However, many of our leaders and organizations are now supporting these same alliances without the manifestation of social or policy changes for our community.
It must be said that the black community of 2006 is no longer the monolithic community it was 40 years ago. With that there are multiple agendas that exists within the black community, other communities of color, and poor communities. Some of these agendas overlap and some are in direct opposition to each other.
Unfortunately in many cases there is no agenda at all and we find ourselves forced to acquiesce to the pre-packaged agenda of the Republican or Democratic parties that in both cases leaves many of our agenda items on the floor (if they ever made it in the room).
We are now faced with a political climate where we are forced to choose one party or the other instead of candidate-by-candidate assessment based on our own agenda. We therefore demonize each other based on party affiliation, chastising democrats that support republicans and vice versa instead of challenging both parties to better represent our agenda and in turn earn our vote. This practice of blindly supporting candidates that do not have an agenda for our community is the paramount reason for my decision.
I believe that there is as much demagoguery and scare tactic rhetoric on the left as there is on the right.
As I look at the issue of voter disenfranchisement, I was on the ground mobilizing people in OH in 2000 with the NAACP and in 2004 with the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network. I was present during the finger pointing and name-calling following the election, and I watched as the congress failed to follow the lead of Stephanie Tubbs Jones to get to the bottom of the situation. I questioned some of the pre election tactics and post election posturing of the Republican Party regarding the issue. However, it is important to note that in at least two of the counties where the most complaints of long lines and too few voting machines were reported there were Democrats at the head of the county election process. It was their responsibility to determine how many machines were to be placed at each location, not that of the Secretary of State. In essence both parties are complicit in not doing everything possible before and after the elections to ensure that every voter has full access to the polls and that their vote is counted. Party agendas have taken precedent over people’s access.
Secondly, after looking at both campaigns I do not see an agenda for my community in the Strickland plan. I hear rhetoric about public education, with no strategy to get there. I do not see the few blacks within the campaign being empowered to do what is necessary to engage the community with substance. He has yet to provide support to either of Ohio’s HBCU’s even by visiting the campus. I also see Strickland doing black community drive-by’s as opposed to meeting one on one with key leaders in the major cities of OH to share his agenda for us.
It must be said that I DO NOT agree with Blackwell on all issues. I am pro-choice and believe in a woman’s right to choose and strongly disagree on any move to take that away. I also do not believe that vouchers will save public schools, merely help a few get out of bad situations. I do however support Blackwell’s move to propose a clear education reform plan to see an increase in classroom spending for public schools. It is reform of this and other types that will push us to repair schools that are bankrupt. I also support Blackwell’s plans for job creation and economic development. He has had the best record of any state official in OH providing state contracts to black owned firms spending over 35% of available resources with minority firms. Finally, he has served on the Board of Wilberforce University for 10 years and continues to support the institution through his presence and resources, moving the President of the University and former congressman Floyd Flake to serve as the co-chair of his campaign (unpaid).
I must again reiterate that I will no longer support those who do not feel a small obligation to support me through their agenda. I would rather know what I am not getting with Blackwell, than have no idea of what I am getting with Strickland. There are many organizations on the left that would tell blacks that Blackwell is bad for them, when those organizations have no black agenda or staff at the highest and lowest levels to carry it out. We must become independent thinkers and not allow others to demonize others as if they are for us.
I am claiming my independence.
It is for that reason that I can endorse not only Ken Blackwell in Ohio, but also Kweisi Mfume in Maryland. While Mfume is running against a popular black republican (if he moves on from the primary), I believe that Mfume will better carry our agenda. As a former congressman and President of the NAACP, he has proven his commitment to our community. I am excited about his campaign and will work as hard to see him win in Maryland as I will work in Ohio for the candidate I believe, at the end of the day, will carry MORE of our water.
As a community, regardless of what demographic of the community you are a part of, I urge you to think independently. If your convictions lead you to disagree, then so be it. Just don’t allow yourself to be plugged into the political matrix moving by a partisan remote control.
In a song titled “My Petition” from her project Beautifully Human, the prolific poetess, Jill Scott writes:
“You say you know the way to go, and I should follow, but all of your empty promises leave me hollow
Oh…how do I trust you? How do I love you when you lie to me repeatedly and Oh…How do I have faith in you when you just don’t come through like you said you would”
While it is said she applicably wrote this to George Bush, it could easily be asked to the Democratic Party as well. I would ask that we challenge both as vigorously as we can.
While many of you reading this may still think I am off base, I ask that you would be critical of my decision, but not my character. Challenge my logic, but not my integrity. For while you may disagree with my ideology and more so my methods, I am doing what I believe is best for the people and communities that I have given over ten years of my life to. I simply believe that it is time for us to change the game.
TO REPLY TO JEFF DIRECTLY PLEASE EMAIL: COMMENTS@JEFFSNATION.COM
Friday, August 18, 2006