In an article prominently featured on last Sunday’s front page of The Washington Post, the writers, sought to determine the reasons behind the single-digit percentage of voters (8 percent) who bothered to exercise their constitutional rights in the District’s poorest communities in the recent primary elections. Without a doubt, those who reside or work in the District, particularly those who serve as our elected officials, should be very concerned.
They would be wise to focus on identifying any and all possible explanations that may shed greater light as to the cause or causes for final numbers which confirm that in Ward 8, also cited as ground zero for the poorest and among the most violent sections of the city, voter turnout for the mayoral election plummeted to percentages not seen in almost 30 years.
As the article continued, hopelessness in the political process was cited by one Southeast resident while another suggested that a growing feeling of disconnection from a city in which today’s trend of growing prosperity has continued to pass them by explains why so many did not vote.
While we don’t disagree with these responses, we are more inclined to lean towards the answer provided by a member of the D.C. chapter of the League of Women Voters who pointed to “disillusionment” and widespread cynicism, particularly among younger voters, as major reasons for historically-low voter turnout percentages. “Apathy” tends to be another word bandied about to describe what voters in the city’s poorer communities, primarily Wards 7 and 8, have felt for so long that voting seems to be a waste of time and effort.
Tragically, those who feel this way may be justified in their conclusions. While we cannot provide irrefutable data, we believe that a litany of broken promises, made by hopeful candidates to citizens east of the Anacostia, have eventually caused them and subsequent generations to have little or no faith in the political process or those who seek political office. What’s more, while grassroots activists like Ward 8’s beloved friend, former Mayor Marion Barry Jr., were able to rally citizens on his behalf, the costs now required to run a winning campaign have made it nearly impossible for everyday people to secure victory.
So, it’s clear that one news story and the voices of just a few people cannot adequately give the writers the answers for which they seemed to be looking. However, we’re more concerned with the article’s subhead: “Leaders say decline signals resignation in poorest neighborhoods.”
We’d really like to know who these alleged “leaders” are. Further, and most disturbing, “resignation” by definition indicates “acceptance” or “submission.” And based on the relationships we have with those living in and committed to wards 7 and 8, we believe it would be difficult to identify a significant percentage of residents who accept living in a state of poverty or who have willingly submitted to being subject to conditions more often associated with Third World nations than the U.S.