Fred Louis: I ran for mayor because I had the right to run

By Fred Louis

As African Americans, we have not always enjoyed the same level of freedom in this country as have our white fellow citizens. For those old enough to remember, the fight for our civil rights heightened in the ’60s and ’70s.  It came to a boiling point as Jim Crow laws resulted in massive protests in which many African Americans were beaten, water hosed, and attacked by police and police dogs.

Why? Why endure the pain and suffering that was inflicted? The answer is freedom.

Many often attribute the rise of the modern Civil Rights Movement to a tired little secretary/dressmaker named Rosa Parks. Her refusal to give up her seat to a white passenger pushed the movement into full swing. The truth is; however, that she was not fighting for the right to sit at the front of the bus, as is often mistakenly assumed. She fought for the choice to sit wherever she wanted to sit, be it back, middle or front. It would not be true freedom if she did not have the right to choose. The African American fight for freedom is a fight not just to have freedom but a fight to choose if and when we want to exercise those freedoms. Anything less than choice is not freedom.

During the recent Mayoral race here in Monroe, I was surprised that I was asked so often, “What in your background qualifies you to run for mayor?”

I was surprised by this because I was qualified to run for mayor of the city by virtue of the fact that I lived in that city. I have education and leadership experience but none of those things qualified me for my run. The fact that I am a free citizen of my city made my candidacy qualified.

The Constitutional freedoms I enjoy made it possible for me to run. Although I didn’t win, my campaign for the highest office in our city was legitimized by citizenship.

Freedom is often a threat to those who want to keep the status quo. My candidacy brought out the political naysayers and those who either do control or want to control political power in the community.

This pressure did not come from the opposition candidate themselves but from the extreme elements within those campaigns. I was told that I should wait my turn and that my entry in the race was purposefully negative and was used to split the black vote. Freedom is not freedom until you have a choice.

There may have been a time in African American politics where it was necessary to have the entire black community back one candidate.  However, with the advancements we have made, that method of thinking has become outdated. The day of backroom deals and choosing is the methodology for people who want to remain in political power.

Who selects the committee that selects the candidate? Not the common man!

Finally, the election came down to voter turnout. This is as obvious as saying a sports contest comes down to the final score! Each candidate in the race has to get out his/her voters. It is the job of the candidate to get out his/her vision so well that people cannot help but to vote for them.

It angered a lot of people that not enough of our people exercised their right to vote during this recent election. By proxy, not exercising that right to vote puts us in a position where we cannot complain when things are not done the way we feel they should be.

I do feel differently than most. By not voting, many of our citizens exercised their most basic freedom, the freedom to choose. Whether we believe it or not, the freedom to choose is more important than the freedom to vote and we have no right to be angry at someone choosing their freedom not to vote over their right to vote. As intelligent African Americans, we must get to a point where we convince people of the power in their vote and get them to use it, be it for or against our cause.

In my teaching experience, I have often told my students that it is not my job to tell them WHAT to think but to teach them HOW to think!

When we do not give “choice” we are telling people what to think, no matter how good the intention.  Even if every African American voted, who’s to say that vote goes in your favor?

My candidacy has brought me a new weight of experience that I honestly may not have gotten otherwise. There is tremendous pressure to get people to vote the way we want them to when they may not even want to vote at all.

We must learn that to vote is not the most precious right we have even though it was paid for in blood, the most precious right is the right to choose!