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Straight No Chaser: “Politics 101” Revisited


Op/Ed By Gloria Winston –


gloria new“Straight No Chaser” was born in the Frederick Douglass Voice, in 1994, and existed for four years until Mr. Howard Coles left this dimension, and his daughter Joan decided there was not enough support in this community to continue publishing the paper beyond its 60 years.

Then along came Pauline and Dave McCleary, who decided my column was worthy enough to give it a foundation in the The Minority Reporter.

Since day one, SNC has been published weekly, and I believe it has been published in MR for well over 10 years now.

My outrageous, opinionated writings have garnered support on many levels.

Many do not always agree with me, however they have been gracious enough to thank me for my honesty, and for having the courage to say what so many others have  been thinking.

Yet, some of my supporters have been fickle, and two-faced.

They love me until I write about me.

But, I understand completely.

I have always felt the need take a risk, and I have always believed it is my job to tell the TRUTH, regardless of what anyone may think.

Although I have never considered myself, or my editorials, to be a part of anyone’s popularity contest.

And, if I think you are wrong, I have no problem saying so.

If I think you are perpetrating a fraud in my community, I also have no problem saying so.

Fakes and phonies are at the top of my list of people who need to take several seats.

I will be 73 years old in July, and I am slowing my roll.

Still, I have great loving friends like Baye’ Muhammad, Joan Howard, Jerry Capers, Doc Melody Cofield and Kenny Jean, who are pushing harder than most to make sure I am published in book form THIS year.

They have circled the wagons, and their love for me is no joke!!

So, no more excuses.

Over the years, most people have known that my favorite topic, the one that has inspired me beyond belief, has been POLITICS.


Because politics influences most of what we do, and some individuals still don’t understand how.

I have been a political junkie since I was 15 years old, and I have worked on local, state and national campaigns.

I have also organized “Get Out the Vote” campaigns in nine states for Rev. Jesse Jackson.

And, when I was a card-carrying member of the National Black Panther Party for Self Defense, as a section leader, one of my responsibilities was to teach “citizens’ rights,” and what I will call “Politics 101.”

When I was kicked out of Madison, I attended a boarding school in Freeville, N.Y. that was run by the students.

The George Junior Republic was governed by my peers, and those who were elected to run the campus paralleled those from an average election.

We had a president, vice president, secretary of state and secretary of treasure.

And, when I worked closely with former County Legislator Willie Lightfoot, we saw the need to continue to educate our people, and established PERTO (a Political Education and Registration Organization).

Over the years, I have also hosted workshops upon request, and continued to teach what we may assume most folks already know.

But, it has never ceased to amaze me that educated, intelligent, successful adults have failed to connect the dots, or understand what politicians actually do for a living.

As a parent involvement coordinator, my staff was full of parent advocates who were assigned to attend City Council meetings, Monroe County legislative meetings and school board meetings.

My thinking was, “How are you going to teach parents about the community if you don’t know yourself?”

This morning I was reminded of that fact, which caused me to feel the need to revisit what used to be taught in schools effectively.

Every state, with the exception of the District of Columbia (whose residents still pay taxes with no representation in Congress), has representation at four levels of government.

They are the federal, state, county and city levels of government.

Each level also has three branches of government, which are the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government.

At the federal level, the executive is the president of the United States. At the state level, the governor is the executive. County-wide it is the county executive, and in city government the executive is called the mayor.

Some mayors, depending on where you live, are elected, and some are appointed.

In our city, the mayor is elected.

Legislative representatives, or lawmakers, at the federal level include the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Together, these two legislative bodies are called Congress.

When it comes to New York state, the New York State Assembly is the lower house of the New York State Legislature, and the New York State Senate is the upper house.

And, through the county system, Monroe County Legislators make the law for the county, while, at the city level, city councilors create the laws for the city.

The primary duty of the federal Congress is to write and pass bills, which are then passed on to the president for his approval.

The judicial branches of government also include a variety of judges.

There are federal judges, state judges, county judges and city judges.

People may be surprised to know that many folks really don’t understand how these political offices interact with each other, and which departments fall within which branches of government.

It is easy to get turned off, and frustrated, when you are calling the wrong politician or office for services that do not fall within the office’s purview.

Nonetheless, we all have a responsibility to educate ourselves, and to grasp a better understanding of what the people we put in office actually do.

The best resource I can offer to help people learn more about the political arena is listed below.

It is a FREE Directory published by Monroe County, which lists ALL local elected officials.

You can download its 94 pages; ask your Monroe County legislator for a copy; or visit the county office building to request one.

You won’t regret it.

In the end, you can’t teach your kids what you don’t know, and you can’t hold politicians accountable for their jobs if you don’t know what they do.

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