Why It’s Obama Time

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There are two popular myths about politics in America: One is that all independent voters are white; the other is that all Black people are Democrats. 

A presidential election is a good moment to set the record straight, particularly since South Carolina is set to play an important role in the 2008 primaries and all voters - including independents - can vote.  Setting this record straight is connected to the political fortunes of one particular presidential candidate – Senator Barack Obama.

I'm a fourth generation African American here in the Palmetto state.  I started voting independent in the late 1980s. Today, I'm the state chairman of the South Carolina Independence Party, a ballot-qualified party with roots in the Perot movement but which is also part of an overall national effort to bring independent politics to Black voters.

Roughly 35% of voting-age African Americans under 30 consider themselves independents, not Democrats. They feel that the political process has become partisan and the Democratic Party has become unresponsive, so being an independent is the only alternative, since the Republicans have never been especially hospitable to Black people. They're currently flying the confederate flag on statehouse grounds.

There are many signs that a significant portion of Black America is looking to break the mold on partisan politics.  Right next door, in Augusta, Georgia, a Black independent, Helen Blocker-Adams, running for the state assembly garnered 32% of the vote against an incumbent Black Democrat in 2006.  In 2005, 47% of Black voters walked away from the Democratic Party in the New York City mayoral election to back Michael Bloomberg, an Independent/Republican. 

This is not just a "Black thing."  Polls show that 40% of all Americans are now independents, and base their votes on the candidate, not the party.  The question for us, for the independents, is how to best use the new power that we have to influence the 2008 presidential elections.

Now, you might ask, what does any of this have to do with Barack Obama? I believe that Obama - and his campaign - are both products of the swing towards political independence.  Here's what Senator Obama says about the cynicism and partisanship of American politics.  He says restoring confidence in the political process is "the most difficult task that confronts us, even harder than dealing with Iraq." 

He adds, "We have a sense that special interests and big money set the agenda, so
there's reason for cynicism, but there's also reason for hope."

Those words are spoken by independents every day of the week. The real hope lies in the fact that so many Americans - Black and white -are waking up to the corruption of partisan politics and becoming independents.  If we can bring those two things together - the Obama candidacy and the independent movement - to develop a Black and independent voter alliance, there is real reason to think we can make serious changes for the good. 

Obama is the presidential candidate who stands for that new politic. That's why I'll be voting for him in the Democratic primary.  That's why I'm forming South Carolina Independents for Obama.  We'll be mobilizing independents of all hues to vote for Obama in the Democratic primary on January 29, 2008.

A new poll of independent voters in the state over the last three weeks shows Obama to be the most popular presidential candidate with independent voters. But, the pressure is on, particularly in the Black community, to back Hillary Clinton. The word out in the churches, for example, is that some ministers—the ones who are supporting Hillary—are unhappy that Obama is even running because, "It's not his time. It's Hillary's time."

Well, time is a funny thing.  As the saying goes, time doesn't stand still. Neither does the political clock. When the moment for change comes, you've got to grab it, or it passes you by.  Black people need to provide leadership to a new multiracial mass movement for reform. 

It's time for a Black and independent alliance.  It's time for progressive change that brings Americans together.  It's time to end the war in Iraq.  That means it's time for South Carolina's independents to support Barack Obama.

Griffin is a longtime independent who was elected to the Greer City Council in 1998.  He currently chairs the Independence Party of South Carolina.

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