Blacks March for Self-determination in Washington but Say They Won’t Be Voting

Louis Farrakhan’s message, that Trump and Clinton are essentially the same, seems to have hit a nerve with some African-Americans in the capital.

File photo: A man wearing a Black Lives Matter sweatshirt in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C., October 10, 2015.
Evan Vucci, AP

WASHINGTON – The quiet in central Washington was disrupted on Saturday afternoon by hundreds of African-Americans who marched on the White House. What the members of the Black Is Back Coalition for Social Justice, Peace and Reparations want is self-determination for blacks. What they don’t want is either of the candidates, it seems, which could spell trouble for the Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton.

Though the Republican candidate is often decried as racist, the movement says there’s no real difference between Clinton and Donald Trump. As Black is Back says on its website, “The Democratic and Republican parties of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have both made it clear that they do not represent the interests of our people.”

“We’re electing not to vote. We choose not to vote,” a woman who identified herself as Empress, 25, told Haaretz. She had carried with her from Philadelphia the red- black- and green-striped Pan-African flag. Empress says that she doesn’t believe Clinton and has even less faith in Trump. What she does believe is that whoever comes to power winds up treating the people like a business whose purpose is to make them money.

Hillary and Trump are just businesspeople, pure and simple, she says, and she has a message for them: She’s not in the business. Blacks shouldn’t participate in the lie by voting, she insists.

Empress and her friends from Philadephia spent hours traveling to Washington by bus — to wake up the country’s blacks, she says. Participants came from New York, New Jersey and other states for the march, which stepped off from Malcolm X Park, the unofficial name of Meridian Hill Park, in northwest Washington.

The movement is scheduled to hold another rally today, but the streets of America’s capital are unlikely to erupt in fire. The imminent election is the only story in town, and it’s on most television screens, but the streets aren’t writhing with supporters of Clinton and Trump locked in mortal combat, though the two camps are now struggling over every vote. In fact there’s barely a Trump supporter brandishing a sign “Make America Great” anywhere.

Pundits on the two sides trade barbs over the airwaves and talk as if America is perched precariously on the brink of some supervolcano and there’s nowhere to run. Meanwhile, in the capital’s predominantly black neighborhoods, residents seem unmoved by the looming outcome of November 8. There are hardly any election posters or bumper stickers, let alone soapboxes. Election season in Washington is felt mainly on TV and the internet and in the tiny rally by Black Is Back — whose members don’t believe in the election in the first place.

U.S. President Barack Obama holds up a baby after speaking in Kissimmee, Florida, November 6, 2016 as he campaigns for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton during a Hillary for America campaign event.
Jim Watson, AFP

The only place we see Clinton or Trump T-shirts is in souvenir stores. Jay-Z and Beyonce cajoling the masses to vote isn’t likely to have much effect in Washington.

One can also buy T-shirts, souvenir photo albums and reusable grocery bags, all graced with images of President Barack Obama and his family — Michelle Obama and the girls. Now, less than three months from the end of his second term, Obama is a hero, a king, here in Columbia Heights, especially in contrast to the main candidates in this election.

Photographs from Obama’s first inauguration, eight years ago are in hight demand, as are close-ups of the first couple kissing.

Clever souvenir sellers have even started hawking the “Yes We Can” T-shirts with Obama’s image that prodded voters out of their apathy in 2008. And even now, at least some people are willing to abandon their apathy sufficiently to fork over $10 for a T-shirt.

All this matters because the polls show that Clinton’s biggest problem is that young blacks are not being moved to vote.

On the one hand, blacks loathe Trump. On the other, they show little enthusiasm for Clinton, which could be key in swing states.

In Columbia Heights, we spoke with T. and with James, neither of whom is even thinking of voting. Why? T. slides a fingertip across the screen of his phone and opens a Facebook page showing a speech by the radical black leader Louis Farrakhan, 82, who isn’t planning to vote either. T. clicks on Play and nods along with Farrakhan’s voice: “Hillary needs the black vote to win. ... I am not telling people to vote for this one or that one. I’m telling you who I am voting for and I’m not voting for neither one of those!”

Farrakhan goes on to explain: Trump says black voters have nothing to lose by voting for him, and he’s not wrong; but blacks never received anything from the Democratic Party, claimed the Nation of Islam minister, exhorting his listeners to get real: “What did you get from the Democrats?” A president, a black one, and Farrakhan is glad he ran and won, because that means black children can grow up knowing they can succeed at more than basketball or music, they can aspire to great heights, the minister orated.

T. nods at Farrakhan’s voice emanating from his cellphone and says that if he were to vote, it would be for the liberal candidate Gary Johnson, because Trump and Clinton are the same thing. “I never voted and never will,” T. says however — “little votes” don’t get counted anyway.

In the Jewish community of Washington, Hillary is a shoo-in, though there are Trump voters here and there. On Shabbat, at the Orthodox synagogue in Georgetown, Kesher Israel, the rule is no politics at shul, and it was respected.

The congregants, however, seemed content to talk, with concern, about the day after in divided America. Both American and Israeli flags are flown inside the synagogue and the congregants pray for the health and wellbeing of the American president, the vice president and American soldiers on the front lines.