Reprinted from 4/21/2016 Amsterdam News
Writer: Amadi Ajamu
The Great Debate in Harlem on the 2016 presidential election held at The Center of Law and Culture at Columbia Law School last week proved to be a provocative and probing community discourse. Viola Plummer, chair of the December 12th Movement, a member of the sponsor group Black Vote Coalition, moderated the talks, which focused on Black voting patterns from Fannie Lou Hamer in 1964 to Barack Obama in 2016: Progress, stagnation or retrograde trend.
The panel included King Downing, former chair of the American Civil Liberties Union Racial Profiling Division; Michael Duncan of the United Negro Improvement Association; Abdul Hafeez Muhammad of the Nation of Islam; Priscilla Adabo of the Harriet Tubman-Fannie Lou Hamer Collective; and Joseph “Jazz” Hayden, founder of allthingsharlem.com and former WBAI producer of On The Count program.
Several Black elected officials were invited to participate, but they declined.
Plummer asked the panel to analyze the history of the Black vote and consider a different choice we can make in the 2016 presidential election. “We can choose to write in ‘Reparations Now,’” she said It won’t change the systemic racism and oppression we face daily, neither will any of the candidates running. What it can do is say to the power structure—we have our own choice. We don’t have to choose who they select. We can choose Reparations Now.”
The panel delved into many issues and conditions Black people have faced and our attempts to use our vote as leverage. “In the 1964 presidential election, at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, 68.5 percent of Black voters voted for Lyndon B. Johnson,” said Muhammad.
“In President Obama’s 2008 election, 60.8 percent of Blacks voted for him, and in his 2012 re-election Obama garnered 62 percent. Yet the political and economic conditions in our communities remain oppressed. During our Saviors Day celebration in 2015, Minister Louis Farrakhan called for the formation of an independent political party, the Justice Party, and toward that end we are in total solidarity with the Reparations Now write-in tactic.”
Joseph Hayden, a Harlem activist known for filming police during stop and frisk encounters and posting the footage on his website, focused on criminal justice and the systemic disenfranchisement of previously incarcerated Black men and women.
“Just about everyone in Harlem has a brother or a nephew or a cousin who’s locked up,” said Hayden. “In New York, as across the country, there are more Blacks imprisoned than whites. Though Blacks only make up 15 percent of the state population, they make up more than half the prison population. These racist laws vary from state to state—in Maine a convicted felon can vote in prison, but in Virginia someone convicted of selling drugs at 18 years old may never vote again.”
Downing stated, “I want to know what you all in the audience think about writing in Reparations Now for president, if yes—why; if no—why not? It is important for us to focus on the fundamental question in this debate.”
As the discussion developed and sharpened, most of the more than 100 participants spoke in support of the write-in Reparations Now proposal and pledged to share the information within their circle.
The Black Vote Coalition will continue to hold forums and rallies around the city for the write-in “Reparations Now” presidential vote. The coalition organizations include the December 12th Movement, Committee to Eliminate Media Offensive to African People, Haitian Doctors Group, Reparations Now, International Association Against Torture, Harriet Tubman-Fannie Lou Hamer Collective, Operation Power and the Drammeh Institute. For more information, call 718-398-1766.