On a recent trip to the barbershop, I overheard a middle-aged woman speaking with unbridled passion about the pay-for-play scheme to sell the U.S. Senate seat of our president-elect. She was amazed at the level of corruption and the it's-all-about-my-agenda politics of which Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has been accused.
It's difficult to escape the continuous flow of conversation and verbal haymakers thrown the direction of Blagojevich. A flurry of allegations of crooked politics in Illinois and Chicago in particular has threatened to taint this great moment in American history. While I listen to the constant and consistent chatter regarding this series of events, one thought continues to cross my mind: Are we serious? Do we seriously believe this is just happening in Illinois?
What would make us think that this behavior is inconceivable? I'm certain that in many cities and counties across the country similar acts take place. I believe that we can find evidence of corruption in more than a few organizations, religious bodies, nonprofits, schools, fraternities, sororities and the like.
Of course, such localized corruption may not rise to the level of Blagojevich's alleged bribes, such as his threat to scuttle funds for a children's hospital if he didn't receive a $50,000 campaign contribution. But shrewd, oftentimes unethical politics are found in many organizations. The pay-for-play agenda is defined by the desire to get something back in return for something you have of value. We see it all over this great nation. The school board member who promises to fulfill a special request for a certain school if a certain parent rallies behind a certain agenda. The city council candidate who promises to erect stop signs throughout a district in exchange for support from an influential community organizer. Parents who offer ice cream, a night at the movies or toys in exchange for their child's good behavior.
Shrewd politics can be found in many areas of our lives. We've all in some way experienced this type of politicking and pay-for-play philosophy.
Do we seriously believe that none of this exists in local politics? Do we dare to believe that in our presidential elections, congressional and state legislature races and even local elections, there are no shrewd, borderline unethical pay-to-play transactions? Or do we turn our heads until the unethical behavior stares us in the face? Will we be silent until the elephant in the living room stands on our plastic-covered sofa?
From February 2007 through November 2008, we watched our nation catch the fever of hope, a hope for a fair and just community and society. A hope for business as usual to die. I firmly believe that Barack Obama was elected our 44th president for this very reason. Democracy at its purest sense is about the people, not planned political bartering.
I hope for my city to catch this vision and enter the new year embracing democracy and understanding the power of our individual votes and voices. I hope 2009 will be a year when we embrace an inclusive plan to move forward in a manner that speaks to the core of the inner good in all of us. I hope for a plan to eliminate homelessness. I hope for communities that are not afraid to turn in criminals and rehabilitate our neighborhoods. I hope for visionary leadership in the greater Richmond region that engages and values everyone. I hope that people will speak up when they see things that are wrong.
I do not share this out of naivetAc. I know that the barter system has long been a part of our culture. We give in exchange for what can be given to us. This system is at the heart of capitalism and nearly everything we do. But it must not be extended to our politics. The challenge of this system is that it does not respect the core principles of democracy, created to give people an equal voice. When our planned agendas set the course through selfish “all-for-me bartering we negate and cheat the democratic process. Whether in political office, working for a local nonprofit, or in the selection process of sorority and fraternity leadership, planned agendas stifle and choke out democracy.
Are we serious enough to take action? I hope we are. Our future growth and community development depend upon it. We cannot continue to recycle leadership, plan or barter political positions. It stunts our growth. Let 2009 be the year, the time, the moment in history when we shift our mental direction. S
The Rev. Tyrone Nelson is pastor of Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church and serves as president of Richmonders Involved to Strengthen Communities, a social-justice advocacy group.
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