BONEY: Hey, Elected Officials, No More Chicken Dinners — We Need Policy

It’s that time again. It occurs every year around the same time, like clockwork. It’s election season.

Political signs infiltrate Black neighborhoods, placed by campaign operatives hoping you remember their respective political candidate come election time. More importantly, these political operatives are hoping your familiarity with their respective candidate will drive you to the polls with the belief that their efforts will translate into a vote for them at the ballot box.

Establishing familiarity is quite an effective tool, especially when it comes to creating a sense of connection with people. Now be honest. If connecting with people through establishing a sense of familiarity weren’t so effective, why would radio stations play the same song over and over again, or why would major companies spend an inordinate amount of money to consistently and strategically advertise their product or service to consumers on a regular basis?

Seeking to connect with people by establishing a sense of familiarity is one of the first things any campaign team tries to do to help get their respective candidate elected.

Have you ever noticed that during every election season, radio ads become more frequent, print mailers get sent out in bulk quantities and television ads get placed on any given network during key television shows in an effort to try and reach registered voters?

Politicians have long been staples in our community. Many of them visit a church here, walk the block and knock on doors over there, kiss babies, shake hands and even give the Black community “stuff” to get them to come out to the polls and vote. It is fascinating the way some political candidates scurry around during election season trying to solicit the Black vote so that they can get elected to a certain office or retain their current seat. It’s an art. Many of these campaign operatives and elected officials have it down to a science.

However, when it comes to developing key, solid policies that will help the Black community, many of these same candidates disappear — never to be heard from again — until the next election cycle rolls around. Interestingly, many of these elected officials get a pass for doing nothing.

Now, if members of the Black community would be completely honest, they would admit that a lot of these elected officials are often treated like high-profile celebrities, rather than public servants who have the power to advocate for substantive policies that can literally change the economic landscape and quality of life of their communities.

One go-to approach for reaching the Black community has been the tactic of political candidates using certain gimmicks to solicit votes.

You know what I’m talking about — offering the Black community chicken dinners, BBQ cookouts, fish plates, steak days, gift cards, air conditioners for senior citizens, etc. Many of these politically-motivated gimmicks have and continue to be used to get Black people to vote for a particular candidate.

You know the routine. Black voters get out to vote, then there is very little reciprocity from many of the candidates towards the Black community once they are elected.

Think about it for a moment and ask yourself some questions.

What evidence do you have to prove that any of your elected officials have actually advocated for you? Ask yourself, when it comes to developing sound policies and legislation for the Black community, when was the last time your elected officials drafted any policy or advocated for any legislation at the local, state or federal level that has positively affected you?

Now, you may have been invited to a fish fry, steak dinner or community social event, but ask yourself, when was the first or last time any of your elected officials educated, equipped and informed your community about any key issues that will affect them?

Truth be told, the Black community has been short-changed when it comes to advocacy by many of their elected officials, regardless of the elected official’s race or ethnicity. Blacks have also been deprived of having progressive and substantive policies drafted by many of their elected officials. In many cases, instead of talking to elected officials about substantive policies and key legislation, elected officials are often sought after to attend an event or take a picture with someone as if they are a Hollywood star, versus a public servant who was elected to serve the people. Again, it’s about familiarity.

The Black community deserves to be treated more like a partner in a serious relationship versus some fling on the side where politicians whisper sweet nothings in our ears in order to get the only thing they really, truly want — the Black vote.

The Black community must stop allowing disengaged elected officials to continue making empty promises in order to get their vote, and then turn around, close the deal (get their vote), and never hear anything from these individuals anymore until they need their Black vote again. The same thing goes for political candidates who don’t win when they run for office as well.

Elected officials are not highly-paid Hollywood entertainers. Elected officials are public servants. The Black community must stop treating elected officials as if they are the hottest celebrity and start demanding sound policy offerings from them. The Black community must embrace accountability and adopt a realistic expectation of having their elected officials be the advocates they need to get things done and fight for them by any means necessary.

This year, the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), a trade group representing over 200 Black-owned media companies across the U.S., is focused on encouraging 5 million Blacks to register to vote before the midterm elections. We need to elect politicians who care about creating sound legislation and being advocates for the Black community year-round.

The same energy and efforts that these elected officials use to get elected, or re-elected, should be the same energy they use when it comes to sitting down with the Black community to better understand our needs and advocate for policies that positively affect their community.

If the constituents of these elected officials have not progressed since they have been in office, and are no more advanced as a result of their leadership, it is time to start looking for new leadership.

Elected officials can keep giving out chicken dinners, BBQ cookouts, fish plates, steak days, gift cards, air conditioners for senior citizens, etc., but what the Black community really needs is sound policies, legislation and advocacy from their elected officials.

Jeffrey L. Boney is associate editor and an award-winning journalist for the Houston Forward Times.

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