Reverend Dr. Arnold Isidore Thomas | Interim Senior Pastor of the Charlotte Congregational Church
As an African American minister, I must acknowledge that the opinions I’m about to share are my own and do not represent the church or denomination I serve. As a parish pastor, it is crucial that my ministry embraces all regardless political persuasion, gender, sexual orientation, racial or ethnic heritage, physical ability or economic condition. However, I also acknowledge that the political reality in which we live permits people to take all of these conditions into account, as assets or liabilities, in their personal and private assessment of who they will choose, or abstain from choosing, as their next president.
There are also factors beyond those already mentioned influencing our impressions of the candidates, many of which have nothing to do with the issues but rather the personality, character of leadership, likability or trustworthiness of the contenders. And while I understand that nobody’s perfect and would prefer a choice that better embodies my values, I can confidently speak for the majority of African Americans who believe we cannot afford the so-called “privilege” of sitting out this election or choosing a third-party candidate for fear that by doing so this nation will revert back to and perpetuate the suppression we fought so hard to overcome.
The majority of black voters in this country started out as Republicans, pouring into the party of Abraham Lincoln because it offered the most outspoken advocacy against slavery. But sensing a move by Republicans away from our fight for full equality and growing support for our cause in Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, black people began a shift into the Democratic Party during the Depression that increased over the years as Republicans became more conservative and Democrats more liberal. In 1964, when Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law and Republicans nominated as their presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, who considered the Civil Rights Act unconstitutional, the remainder of black voters virtually left the Grand Old Party (GOP), and the majority of African Americans have voted as Democrats ever since.
Throughout our history in this nation African Americans have relied on the presidential office, federal legislation or the Supreme Court to challenge or abolish discriminatory practices we couldn’t achieve on the state level. So when we hear pundits promoting state rights over federal involvement, regardless of their motives, we cannot help but be suspicious, realizing that such actions have often signaled the slowing down, thwarting or dismantling of causes we support.
I and the majority of Americans who are members of racial and ethnic minorities cannot afford the “privilege” of sitting out this presidential election, or even choosing a third-party candidate, when the future makeup of the Supreme Court, environmental policies affecting our health and well-being, civil rights, women’s rights, LGBT rights, marital rights, reproductive rights, religious freedom, the quality of our criminal justice system, the quality of race relations, the quality of life for immigrants and refugees, the quality of how we relate to one another, along with how we relate to and are treated by our world community are all at stake!
You may not agree with me. That is truly your right and privilege, which will in no way weaken my regard for you. But please understand that I believe the rights and privileges my parents and ancestors fought, bled, cried and died for would be greatly diminished if I refrained from choosing the leader who personifies the best potential of furthering the social objectives I desire for my country.
I simply can’t afford not to vote.