Last week New York's Village Voice ran an article advising Rev. Al Sharpton how to run his campaign. We're not going to do that. Sharpton will show who he is in the course of the race. Even those of us who think we know him cannot predict what the National Action Network leader will become as he is tested by the experience.

Instead we will briefly lay out what believes is the historic mission that a Black candidate should strive to fulfill in the Democratic primaries. We believe Al Sharpton is up to the task, if he maintains a clear vision and personal discipline.

Be the Black candidate

There has not been a national election cycle since passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act in which a demonstration of concentrated, effective Black voting strength has been more critical. First and last, the Black candidate's job in 2004 is to energize the Black vote. The largest possible number of African Americans must coalesce behind one candidate in order to prove that there still remains a formidable Black bloc vote. If you are the unabashedly Black candidate, that should be you.

The corporate media is out to destroy Black candidacies, not necessarily you as a person, but the very idea of an independent, conscious, shared Black electoral mission. Corporate media today act in lockstep with Republicans and corporate Democrats to encourage and even invent centrifugal forces within the Black body politic. (See November 4, "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Bogus Election "Study" - Black Majette vote grossly inflated.") Their common goal is to fracture the Black vote and, thereby, eliminate from American political debate the essential elements of the broad Black political agenda. If the Black bloc vote is fractured, or can be made to appear unfocused, the media will declare that the African American vote is no longer strategically important. From that point on in national contests, the Black electorate will be treated as less than the sum of its purportedly scattered parts.

Never before have so many freelance and salaried Black vote splitters been fielded within the community, itself. One of them is among your opponents, Carolyn Moseley-Braun. Others work on behalf of candidates and forces within the Democratic National Committee whose sole interest in Black voters is that they not interfere with white candidates' abilities to address white voters. You are the only hope for African Americans as a group to have a strong voice in the Democratic Presidential process, and Black voters are your only hope of wielding clout as a leader of an effective Party bloc.

No diversions

Do not allow yourself to trade in a single Black vote for any number of hoped for white votes. Your mission is to fire up Black people so that they might speak with a louder, more coherent voice, not to water down the cultural or political content of the message. In this sense, your candidacy is largely an internal Black affair, although certainly not exclusionist in spirit or intention. The fact of the matter is, you do not stand to gain many white votes anyway, and the good white people who will vote for you do not need to be pandered to. Your message is progressive, in line with the historical Black social vision. Let white people envision it with you, if they are willing. But you will do progressive politics no service by unnecessarily diverting your energies from your Black base. Progressive politics cannot exist in America without an energetic Black electorate and movement. That's your critical function, in this election cycle.

You will be encouraged to "broaden" your message early in the cycle, so that you will have a larger potential pool to draw from later on, when the field narrows. If you follow this nonsense, you will never get through the primaries. Your message is already broad, and you have made no mistakes of "narrowness." Those who suggest that you go "beyond your base" almost certainly represent smaller, single-issue groupings. In the end, they will most likely still not vote for you. You are not the scavenger candidate - you are the Black candidate. Your potential base is bigger than anyone else can offer. More importantly, you are in this race to demonstrate their power, not your wider appeal.

Put out the call

The Village Voice writer said you "absolutely must get invited to the big debates in January." Ta-Nehisi Coates is correct. But you will get there by virtue of your Black voter support. Let someone dare to bar from the debate a Black candidate with the polled support of more than half the Black Democratic public. That is a fight you will surely win, or bring into utter disrepute those Democrats that collaborate in your rejection. Trust us, none of your opponents wants to go there.

Make the January debates part of your campaign appeal. "If you don't want to see a monochrome debate in January, tell the pollsters you support me!" This message touches the "race person" in most African Americans, and should move even those Blacks who don't particularly like you. And some non-Blacks, too.

Finally, on the Tawana Brawley matter. We've tried to avoid offering specific advice, so we'll make this short. Those who ask that you "apologize" in order to "come clean" are your enemies. They are calling you dirty, and are full of the stuff that preachers cannot name. You are a minister who believed a young Black woman over the words of white men in rural, upstate New York. On Black terms, that's righteous, honorable, and quite enough.

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Issue Number 39
April 24, 2003

Other commentaries in this issue:

Cover Story
Conspiracy Theories 2 - The Great Unraveling of U.S. Global Power

Condoleezza The Gatekeeper

The Issues
Black frontrunner for Illinois Senate Seat... U.S. Education chief favors church schools... Lucy calls Bush Blacks "ornaments"... The Global Race War

Prison data is understated... The proper time and place for looting... Comparative "Skeeza" analysis... Real and theoretical conspiracies

Guest Commentary
When Major Powers Stage a Coup by Randall Robinson

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Commentaries in Issue 38 April 17, 2003:

Cover Story
Conspiracy Theories

The Issues
The stealth war on the poor... Philly bomber’s son makes good... Black casualties surprisingly high... Depraved indifference to the species

Tracking Black youth to prison... Torturing Black Tulia... The Redlining of America... "Common Threads" of humanity

HIP HOP'S (UNSPOKEN) TEN COMMANDMENTS by stephanie mwandishi gadlin

Bush’s Other Declaration of War By Tammy Johnson, director of Race and Public Policy at the Applied Research Center

You can read any past issue of The Black Commentator in its entirety by going to the Past Issues page.