Op-ed by John Hope Bryant
As the fiasco in Ferguson continues to unfold, one of the arguments gaining traction is that the poor condition of the black residents of Ferguson stems from their lack of political representation.
As The New York Times reports, "Ferguson's demographics have shifted rapidly: in 1990, it was 74 percent white and 25 percent black; in 2000, 52 percent black and 45 percent white; by 2010, 67 percent black and 29 percent white." As the population of Ferguson became more African-American, those who controlled the local government and law enforcement remained virtually all white. Nonetheless, the voter turnout rate in Ferguson was a mere 12 percent.
Why Vote, Some Ask?
While I agree with calls for the residents of Ferguson to vote, the underlying cause of voter apathy is more related to whether they feel they have a stake in the community. I often point out how a car renter treats a car, compared to a car owner. The renter will rarely wash the car, because he has no stake in the car.
This, too, is often the attitude of the underclass. "Why should I care about politics? Why should I waste my time to vote?" With such an attitude, it's easy to understand how and why so many Americans – not just in Ferguson – opt out of the system.
Giving People Hope
Voter registration drives, while important, are not the only answer to this endemic problem; ownership is. That's why I founded Operation HOPE in the wake of the riots in Los Angeles 23 years ago, sparked by the videotaped police beating of Rodney King. Our mission was to empower the financially ill-equipped and the economically excluded, and to bring them into the system of American power. As was true then, we now see a wave of self-destructive energy: looting, arson, violence, and chaos. Those young people – those we saw in L.A. and those we see on the night streets of Ferguson – simply have no stake in the society.
Watch the 4-minute movie on How The Poor Can Save Capitalism here.