How Voting is Like Going to Sears or Kmart

We’re rightfully hand wringing over low voter turnout numbers in New York State. Regardless of our fixation on national politics, nothing has greater impact on our daily lives than the local voting machine.

Garbage collection, street repair, funding of our failing schools, economic development policy, and this list goes on and on. But many people, especially the poor and minorities have established a pattern of voting heavily in the presidential election year, sitting out mid-term and local plebiscites.  In 2014 only 28% of New Yorker’s even bothered to show up at a polling site.

Mayor Stephanie A. Miner stood with activists and local elected officials in front of Southwest Community Center, unveiling a series of measures that would effectively bring New York State in line with 33 other states, allowing increased access to early voting. Mayor Miner outlined three proposals aimed at easing voter registration and increasing voter turnout.  The proposals includes, allowing a 20 day early voting period, “permanent” inclusion on the Absentee Ballot list and Universal Voter Registration at age 18.

Obviously, I’m flinging this skipping a stone over the crony filled moat of “voter access” to ask a question. Why vote? If you live in a city where 37% of your neighbors are living in poverty and your prospects for employment are low?

The poor and under employed witnessed the construction of gleaming monuments to conspicuous consumption (Destiny USA Mall), and watched condominiums downtown rising faster than a child’s test score.

In the Syracuse City School District, 9 of 10 students in grades 3-8, do not meet New York State Standards in English Language Arts and math. That’s a 90% failure rate, what does this portend for future high school graduation numbers?

If you’re poor and live in Syracuse you may not have a car. The corner store you shop in sells, “loosies” and resembles a shell of its former tidy well-maintained past. You’re afraid to send your child around the block, because someone was shot there last weekend.  Lit candles, Teddy bears and ribbons mark the spot.

If it snows and you have a baby stroller, forget about leaving your block since pathways to your only source of sustenance are obstructed by snow and ice.  You have no car, therefore the errands that most people can accomplish in 20 minutes, take you 3 hours on the bus between transfers and waiting.

Your son, who’s always been a good kid, can’t get a part-time job because opportunity in Syracuse for the “underclass” has dried-up like a California raisin.  We have the most diverse elected government in Syracuse history. Even with this newly minted, “diversity” none of the politicians are paying attention to root causes of our dysfunction as voters in a Democracy.

African-American Syracuse residents entrapped in our most challenged neighborhoods are fed up, feeling powerless and frustrated as Syracuse rises; their life raft is taking on water.

Let me offer this observation. The poor and marginalized no longer care about politics or voting, if constant struggle and a difficult existence is the hallmark of your daily life, what are you voting for?

There’s a reason people don’t participate in the voting process, the politics has become sterile and impersonal. Traditional political “patronage” a system of rewarding participation by “the party faithful” has eluded African-Americans. Robbing disaffected residents the experience of knowing a neighbor, cousin or friend who obtained employment by being a good “foot soldier” for either political party.

An elected official in Syracuse earns more in their part-time job than at least 35.7% of those attending Syracuse City Schools. And the voter feels no benefit from participation. He’s a Black male, his son can’t find a job, and his own employment status is tenuous. His socio-economic infrastructure has collapsed, his financial water main is busted and his nephews’ guts are spilling over the pavement in gunfire drawn blood.

While increasing access to the voting process is a laudable cause, results as seen by the “man on the street” are negligible. He can’t afford to shop at the mall, if he’s a teen he has to worry about whether he can be safe, traveling from one side of town to the other.  Some young people can’t go on the east side; some can’t go on the north side, without fear of territorial encroachment and a violent response.  Their world has been reduced to 10 square blocks.  And we gasp in shock when they shoot each other.

When you live in a truncated world with reduced resources, having increased access to voting isn’t the problem.  The fundamental problem is finding a reason to participate, especially when your election choices are between, “Twiddle Dee and Twiddle Dumber.”

Let’s make it even more graphic, voting is like going to either Sears or Kmart, both owned by the same company and they both suck.