Can we draw parallels between the political experience of Du Bois and our present time? The situation the Du Bois describes can easily be translated into a commentary of what is happening in 2016 – the message is clear – reputable people cannot abandon the political realm despite what the chattering classes say, as it each citizen’s duty to take part in the political process and attempt to make things better not only for themselves, but for the following generations.
Our democracy has been moving further and further away from the participatory citizen model that we like to claim we have. Interests that do not represent the common people strive to gerrymander our democracy to suit their narrow band of self-aggrandizing goals.
“Meantime, new thoughts came to the nation:the inevitable period of moral retrogression and political trickery that ever follows in the wake of war overtook us. So flagrant became the political scandals that reputable men began to leave politics alone, and politics consequently became disreputable. Men began to pride themselves on having nothing to do with their own government, and to agree tacitly with those who regarded public office as a private perquisite. In this state of mind it became easy to wink at the suppression of the Negro vote in the South, and to advise self-respecting Negroes to leave politics entirely alone. The decent and reputable citizens of the North who neglected their own civic duties grew hilarious over the exaggerated importance with which the Negro regarded the franchise.
Thus it easily happened that more and more the better class of Negroes followed the advice from abroad and the pressure from home, and took no further interest in politics, leaving to the careless and the venal of their race the exercise of their rights as voters. The black vote that still remained was not trained and educated, but further debauched by open and unblushing bribery, or force and fraud; until the Negro voter was thoroughly inoculated with the idea that politics was a method of private gain by disreputable means.
And finally, now, to-day, when we are awakening to the fact that the perpetuity of republican institutions on the continent depends on the purification of the ballot, the civic training of voters, and the raising of voting to the plane of solemn duty which a patriotic citizen neglects to his peril and to the peril of his children’s children, – in this day, when we are striving for a renaissance of civic virtue, what are we going to say to the black voter of the South? Are we gong to tell him still that politics is a disreputable and useless form of human activity? Are we going to induce the best class of Negroes to take less and less interest in government, and give up their right to take such an interest, without a protest? I am not saying a word against all legitimate efforts to purge the ballot of ignorance, pauperism, and crime. But few have pretended that the present movement for disfranchisement in the South is for such a purpose; it has been plainly and frankly declared in nearly every case that the object of the disfranchising laws is the elimination of the black man from politics.”
-W.E.B. Du Bois. The Souls of Black Folk p.105 – 106.