CenterLine: Race and Politics

We at the Centrist Project have spent several years highlighting episodes in national politics that speak for themselves, that underscore the nature of a political system that just doesn’t seem fair anymore, that works for itself and not the people.

The following is taken from last week's CenterLine, our weekly newsletter that highlights important issues around the nation and attempts to bring to light those that you might have missed. You can sign up to receive CenterLine on our homepage, HERE.

Since August of last year, one episode has dominated all others: the ongoing, racially charged confrontation between Americans and the police. We believe that politics, that Democracy, is about the people. It is about shining a light, giving voice, to all aspects of society. As citizens of that democracy, it is not only our responsibility to be informed, but to be engaged, to talk. We don’t have to reach a conclusion or solve the problems of society in one sitting, but the discussion needs to be had beyond news coverage. 

The Centrist Project community is remarkable in this day and age. We are not united by a singular fixation on one policy perspective. We are united by a common rejection of that attitude, of the zero-sum game. We are united by a belief that problems are there to be solved. We have not hidden from conversations on other divisive issues. Why should this be any different?

What follows is not the voice of the entire Centrist Project community, but the voice of our Outreach Manager, Andy Smith. It is not a singular perspective, but the start of the conversation.


Full disclosure: I am white. I cannot pretend to understand the experience of residents of The Avenue, where the Baltimore riots are centered. But I know injustice when I see it.

Victor Hugo said, “If a soul is left in the darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but he who causes the darkness.”

The violence of the riots can be condemned, but we need to ask ourselves what drives these Americans to commit these acts of violence? By the circumstance of birth in just a tiny part of a vast nation, many Americans experience opportunity denied.

Equal opportunity should be something inherit in the American system, but the simple fact is that if you grow up with less money, in worse neighborhoods, and attend struggling schools, you have less opportunity than others. 

If we are unified in the belief that problems are there to be solved, or at the very least, addressed, recent history does not give us much confidence that this will be occurring anytime soon.

Since the confrontations in Ferguson last year, how many young Americans have we seen shot and/or die on camera? Has there been any real, substantive national effort to address these problems? Have our leaders come together, unifying across party lines behind the notion that at its core, the American system is about two simple things: justice and opportunity? Like the events themselves, the public response is very telling.

We live in a political system that is unresponsive to the needs of the people. Confronting racial division is just the latest iteration of a continual problem. Where is further action on student loans? On immigration? On the wage gap?

Looking forward gives little hope that things will get better. Have any declared Presidential candidates said anything new in response to this violence? Have they inspired hope that their tenure will bring change for the better? Deep self-reflection might reveal that neither party proposes making things better, they only promise that the other party will make it worse. 

This is all indicative of a political system, of political parties, that take our votes for granted. They assume that, by virtue of our age, our race, our religion, our education, our background, we will vote for them. They assume that we do not have a choice. That we are too apathetic, too glued to our screens to demand better. They define us, deny us choice, and then tell us we can’t do any better.

Martin Luther King Jr. said that “A riot is the language of the unheard.” The communities of West Baltimore are unheard, have been unheard for so long. They have remained unheard because our politicians, our leaders, care more about winning than they do about service. The people of West Baltimore, and all Americans, deserve a Congress, a President, that hears them.

Today, the police officers involved in the arrest of Freddie Gray were charged with various crimes, but this should not be the end of the narrative. We deserve a system where a young man’s death is not impetus for change, where politicians actually fulfill the promises of their campaigns, and take the needs of their constituents seriously.

As we move toward 2016, we cannot lose faith in the power of our vote. Our vote is our endorsement, an expression of faith in one candidate as well as dissatisfaction with the others. Americans are overwhelmingly dissatisfied with our government, with our parties, with our choices. What would happen if we voted that way?

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