In "The Browning of America," Voting Equals Power

A CBC Foundation panel says voters mustn’t forget they’re in charge.

Posted: 09/20/2012 02:00 PM EDT

Given some African-Americans’ disappointment in President Obama, distrust of Republican Mitt Romney and potential disenfranchisement at the polls in November, it’s understandable that many view politics through a national lens.

That’s a mistake, cautioned panelists at a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Annual Legislative Conference forum on “The Browning of America” and how racial and ethnic demographics are changing the political landscape.

The fact is, as one lawmaker once famously said, all politics is local. 

“Don’t make the mistake of talking politics and only focusing on the top of the ticket when you’re getting nailed when it comes to those down-ballot races,” said CNN contributor Roland Martin, who moderated the panel.

There was a national furor over the slaying of teen Trayvon Martin, the “Stand Your Ground” law that enabled George Zimmerman to brandish the gun that killed him and the district attorney who didn’t want to charge Zimmerman. But voters in Florida and other states with similar laws are the only ones who can affect the change necessary to strike them off of the books.

The same theory holds true for states in which civil rights groups are now fighting new voting rules. In some cases, if the people who are most affected by them now had turned out to vote in the midterm elections in 2010 the way they did for Barack Obama in 2008, those laws would not now be in place.

Voters, noted Georgia state representative Stacey Abrams, must remember that they’re the ones in charge and use their vote to ensure their best interests are the priority.

“When you elect someone, you are hiring someone for a job to speak for you, and if we do not do our job we should be fired,” she said. “Politics is the only business where you get hired for a job and your bosses leave for two to four years. Then they come back and say, ‘Did you do what I asked you to do?’”

Abrams also said that voters should also consider the fact that they cannot only build coalitions to elect people, but they can also kick them out of office.

“The best way to get a politician’s attention is to take their job away or threaten to take their job away,” she added. “That’s when they start to do a better job.”

Such advice takes on greater urgency as the nation’s population continues to grow more brown than white. If racial and ethnic groups don't use the power of their vote, their fortunes and fates will be ruled by a minority. 

“We can look at the browning of America as a problem or an opportunity,” said George Washington University Law School professor Spencer Overton. “We know what it’s like to be excluded, to not really have a place at the table, and we’re uniquely situated to take a leadership position.”

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(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

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