by John Burl Smith — (John Burl Smith began as a black power advocate in 1967 and now advocates for social change, social justice and other progressive causes. He is the author of “The 400th” (1619-2019) From Slavery to Hip Hop,” which is set for release in April.)
All indicators point to you as the presumptive Democrat Party nominee for President of the United States of America, and with that, I offer my congratulations. Following a long grueling, and even bitter contest at times, now the party must turn to the job of “binding up its wounds.”
Following another long bitter and deadly fight among the American family, President Abraham Lincoln used that theme “binding up the nation’s wounds” in his re-election message to the nation. Lincoln’s theme reflected America’s greatest need and the proper therapy for a broken nation.
I believe President Lincoln designed his prescription to get ahead of and undercut those forces that would “use the moment to keep hatred and division alive.” Sir, I believe, metaphorically as well as symbolically, presently, you are standing in his shoes, and as such, I hope your actions, in the eyes of future generations, cast a shadow as long as Pres. Lincoln back then.
I say this because the same issues that racked America back then are present today as America faces enemies within and without. The need is clear for most Americans; the question is will the Democrats be the party that will step forth to provide leadership to guide the nation out of the present morass?
My credibility in offering the following assessment comes with credentials that begin with my mother, Mrs. Willie May Gray. Mrs. Gray’s involvement with the Democratic Party began in 1948 in Memphis, Tenn., as a supporter of President Harry S. Truman for President. I remember walking door to door with her, as a nine year old, campaigning for Adlai Stevenson in 1952.
My history of support for the Democrat Party transitioned as I became a black power activist and founding member of the Invaders (1967). Through the Invaders’ support for the Memphis sanitation workers during their strike (1968), I became one of the last two people (Charles Cabbage was the other) to meet with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in a strategy meeting less than an hour before his assassination.
I became a political activist in 1972 as a campaign coordinator for former Congressman of the 9th District of Tennessee, Harold E. Ford. I was the campaign manager for the youngest state representative ever elected in Tennessee at 22 years of age, Dedrick “Teddy” Withers in 1974. “Teddy” represented the 85th District in South Memphis.
The political milestone that means the most to me was being part of Rep. Shirley Chisholm’s 1972 campaign for President. Rep. Chisholm’s candidacy was inspired by the Rev. Hosea Williams during the first “Black Political Convention” since 1864 that was held in 1972 in Gary, Ind. During the Democratic Party National Convention, Rep. Chisholm’s candidacy helped organize the first-ever “Black Political Caucus” (1972) within the Democrat Party.
Following that convention, two years later, the Black Political Caucus met at the 1974 Democratic Party Mini-Convention in Kansas City. The Black Political Caucus pulled together a progressive coalition of blacks, Native People, women, Latinos and poor whites that broke the stranglehold “Dixiecrats” had on the party’s nomination process. These progressives opened up the delegate selection process for a President to include those groups, giving them representation in the party.
Progressives also increased representation for those groups as members on the Rules Committee, while winning enough votes to limit the number of uncommitted special and super delegates. That progressive coalition made it possible for insurgent candidate Jimmy Carter to become President. I was part of that campaign, through Rep. “Teddy” Withers re-election campaign in 1976.
The Democratic Party’s primary concern today should be what would keep Sen. Bernie Sanders’ supporters, which I am one, from walking away. It is evident you have elderly Democratic voters locked in and those that consider themselves moderates, but by anyone’s count that gets you only half-way. This is where the type of leadership I spoke about earlier comes to bear on the situation most heavily.
You have committed to selecting a woman as your vice-presidential running mate, which I agree is the kind of essential step needed, but it is your next decision that will either seal the deal or widen the breach.
Consequently, since your VP choice must bear the other half of your effort to unite the party behind your candidacy, I throw Mrs. Michelle Obama’s hat in the ring as the other half of the unity ticket, which I believe will end the bloodletting.
Some may question my analysis or my presumptuousness in putting Mrs. Obama’s name forth before gauging her willingness to accept such a challenge. The former First Lady would give renewed hope for not only Sen. Sander’s supporters, but will bring fence-sitting African Americans on board a candidacy they can trust.
Also, we can lay qualification aside because her credentials are impeccable. Her experience is broader and more extensive than any woman in America. It is clear the Constitution gives no role in the performance of the office of President to the First Lady, but “pillow talk” goes both ways. So, the former First Lady has a perspective, on the office of President and Vice President no other woman, under consideration has.
Indubitably, as the other half of the ticket is designed to seal any breach, adding Mrs. Obama, a proven asset, would bring luminescence and glamor to what many black voters see as a lack luster campaign.
However, in her own right, before entering the White House the former First Lady served her community as a lawyer and community advocate. More importantly, after leaving the White House, she continued building a very, very loyal and dedicated following, not only among black women, but women of all races and men, as well as young people, which many are not part of Sen. Sanders’ supporters.
These voters would overwhelmingly accept half a loaf, with the former First Lady making the cut. Again however, for black people it would amount to a full loaf because descendants of American slavery have never been full partners with any administration since they gained the vote.
Now, we come down to the major sticking point, if there is a deal-breaker, and that is, will she accept?
I believe, first and foremost, Mrs. Obama is a “patriot” of the first order. One of the most lucid thinkers regarding America’s current problems, she knows this is one of the most critical moments in history for America’s descendants of slavery. She is very much aware we, as a people, have reached this juncture before in 1912, then Woodrow Wilson entered the White House.
Wilson used the federal government to initiate segregation, beginning with the federal government, while supporting lynching, mayhem, banishment and ethnic cleansing against descendants of American slavery, which lasted into the 1960s.
Looking at that history, the former First Lady understands these times, even this moment, was made for her. God is never wrong when He puts someone in a place He has prepared for them, and it is the events of their life that brought them there.
Therefore, I believe if you ask, Mrs. Obama will not refuse. Sen. Sanders, along with many young progressives that are not involved in this process, will accept and support half a loaf, rather than nothing.