Opinion: Proactive communities can improve politics

Why the right approach by voters is just as necessary as the right candidate.
Bobby Adams (front), from the SCLC, encourages citizens to vote on Tuesday, November 8, 2022, across the street from the Metropolitan Library in Atlanta. Voters cast their ballots for the midterm elections. CHRISTINA MATACOTTA FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Christina Matacotta for the AJC

Credit: Christina Matacotta for the AJC

Bobby Adams (front), from the SCLC, encourages citizens to vote on Tuesday, November 8, 2022, across the street from the Metropolitan Library in Atlanta. Voters cast their ballots for the midterm elections. CHRISTINA MATACOTTA FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Political connection is a choice. Like every relationship in our adult life, it is a choice of who we allow to connect with us.

As communities, individuals, and organizations, we dictate the extent of connection we allow aspiring political leaders and candidates to share with us. A candidate pursues our vote and we either respond favorably, or we don’t.

Too often, in hindsight we hear popular rhetoric following sizable elections that claims that a “good candidate” simply failed to connect with a particular audience. But isn’t connection a mutual responsibility? I question the logic that the responsibility of connecting falls squarely on candidates. That’s not to remove the responsibility of candidates to rightfully earn votes, but to widen our thinking and redefine the expansive role we as members of our communities must now share in the electoral process.

Taos Wynn

Credit: Reginald Duncan

icon to expand image

Credit: Reginald Duncan

As an illustration, consider an electrical outlet along a wall. When connecting a plug into an outlet, there must first be an intentional effort to place it. This represents a candidate attempting to connect to potential voters. However, the outlet too has a significant part to play in this process, which includes being operational, receptive and in a position to best support the plug. Furthermore, behind every working outlet is a complex infrastructure that is already positioned. Otherwise, the outlet is ineffective.

I believe our communities operate similarly. To increase their effectiveness, similar to outlets, they must also begin to formulate a dynamic, multifaceted infrastructure intentionally designed to support (with information, knowledge, skillsets, time, resources and more) the candidates who are directly aligned with communities’ views and best interests.

Otherwise, like inoperable outlets, our communities during election season will be vastly unprepared and politically ineffective.

Accordingly, we must rethink the current role we play in our ecosystem of selecting and supporting candidates.

The notion of waiting for the perfect candidate is an outdated relic. Furthermore, our current reactive politics is simply not working, which begs the question – now what?

We have to stop being reactionary in our approach to elections. This redundant model we continue to experience in many of our communities goes as follows. Step one is basic awareness where everyone knows or is made aware that election season is either coming or has arrived. Then, step two is we wait to see who chooses to run for office. Afterwards, we then wait for a candidate to appeal to our siloed interests and connect with our identifying audience(s). Last, we choose either not to engage at all, or to support a particular candidate with our contributions, volunteerism and/or our vote.

The issue with this cyclical behavior is that it is completely reactive to so many factors of the electoral process. In most cases, this proves to be wildly inefficient. This more lackadaisical approach often paralyzes communities from initiating more-decisive action on the front end.

The effect is that marginalized communities that depend on and really need more favorable outcomes from the electoral process become stifled and see low returns on their investment in the political process.

Something has to change – and that must include the way in which we engage. The results of elections are too heavy a burden to carry on the back end.

More work must be done proactively to build the political capital, acumen and infrastructure to redistribute the weight of elections to the front end.

Imagine if we as citizens and communities took a more proactive stance towards elections – building an informed populace and infrastructure that’s better prepared to support the electoral process -- as opposed to merely waiting for it to connect with us.

Doing so requires us, similar to an electrical outlet, to be ready – which includes the development of more highly sophisticated systems of collaboration, basic consensus, pooled resources and strategic thinking, coupled with allyship that recognizes that in many cases the plight of marginalized communities is collectively shared.

Preparation also entails having a plan -- a diverse and intergenerationally prioritized agenda, succinct messaging, responsive strategies and tactics to achieve a future that includes our communities. This is the work that must be done well in advance of any election.

The reality is that prepared communities drive positive outcomes.

Regardless of which candidates are on the ballot or whether it’s a midterm or general election year, our communities must know and plan for the outcomes we want to see. And then we must harness the collective vision, resources and infrastructure to have political influence.

It starts by accepting the accountability of making informed participation in the electoral process more normalized in our marginalized communities. Turning out voters in our communities starts on the family, friend, and church pew level --educating future voters of not just the process or how to register for it, but more importantly, their responsibility to participate in it.

Voting must become normalized and seen as non-negotiable for our communities. This is how the process -- and the results – change. They change when we change how we engage with the process.

Communities that take a more-proactive approach and build this type of infrastructure will see greater political gains. And being better prepared for elections will allow our communities to drive progress as well as protect the narrative and desired outcomes.

But it won’t just happen by happenstance. Preparation is the key to building peace (which includes the presence of justice) and political wins for our communities. In the words of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., “those who love peace must learn to organize as effectively as those who love war.”

So, whether you champion a racial community, or a particular ethnic or faith community at large – it is only by organizing the political infrastructure of our communities that we will begin to see more-equitable outcomes and the true power of our Beloved Community.

Taos Wynn is an Atlanta-based author, orator and human rights advocate. He is founder of the Perfect Love Foundation and the Millennial Civil Rights Movement.