With less than three weeks until the 2000 election, America's attention is focused on politics. This presidential election will be one of the closest in history, and although there is little enthusiasm for either George W. Bush or Al Gore, the fact that we really cannot say who the next president will be has increased interest in the race. Some contend that this election will be a turning point for many issues. They claim that the next president will appoint several Supreme Court justices, deciding the future of issues such as affirmative action and abortion. However, politics is not just about elections; it is also about people taking direct action. Voting is merely the beginning -- not the end -- of political activism. And recent events around the world have demonstrated the power of direct action. A few weeks ago in Serbia, hundreds of thousands of citizens took to the streets in order to validate their votes. They successfully ousted Slobodan Milosevic, who tried to hold onto power in spite of his electoral loss. Demonstrators in Cairo convinced Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to convene a summit for peace in the Middle East after his reluctance to do so. And just yesterday, the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) held a rally in Ann Arbor, Mich., ending a week of events in protest of the two anti-affirmative action lawsuits against the University of Michigan, which may well go to the Supreme Court. When they visited Penn this year, BAMN members pointedly said that they would not sit back and let the Supreme Court determine the fate of affirmative action. They have learned history's lesson that what counts most is not who is in public office, but who in the electorate is most vocal. And public offices are ultimately determined by the people and accountable to them. This past week also saw the fifth anniversary of the Million Man March, celebrated by a Million Family March that was held in Washington, D.C. These events have been among the largest mass demonstrations by blacks ever in the nation's capital. In fact, the Million Man March drew more people than the march in 1963 at which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. However, the Million Man March did not have an explicit political focus. It was a day of atonement for black men to bond, reflect upon their experiences and make a commitment to uplifting themselves and their communities. And while the march was a powerful statement, people have wondered whether attendees actually kept their promises. But the greater issues not addressed by the march are the large, structural problems in American society that still hold back the majority of black Americans and other people of color. Huge racial disparities still exist in educational opportunities and health care, and major policy changes are needed to eliminate these injustices. While the march's theme was one of self-determination, we cannot ignore the fact that government policies created and maintain racial inequity. And mass actions such as the Million Man March can help change those policies. In fact, Congress was quite daunted by the prospect of one million black men gathering near the Capitol until march organizer Louis Farrakhan announced that he was not interested in engaging politicians. Thus, there was no real political impact. The next time one million blacks, people of color or any progressive-minded people demonstrate in Washington, I hope they will not only ponder what they can do better, but also actively challenge the federal government on its home turf. The power of one million people marching to the Capitol or the White House and demanding change from politicians would have a tremendous impact on public policy -- one greater than any election result. Political activism is not a single act, like voting; it is a way of life. Despite the importance of voting, the outcome of this election will not matter if we do not challenge the government with massive, direct action. Because if we are unwilling to do so, neither affirmative action nor any other policy enacted by the government can help us much in the long run.Comments powered by Disqus
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