Voting alone won’t fix everything, & it’s time we started verbalizing that.
Parents, aunties/uncles, mentors, & elders throughout the Black community love to tell the younger generation to vote. Here’s why that falls hollow most of the time.
I’m exhausted. I’ve felt so many feelings over the past week that I can barely separate the days from each other. We are facing several crises on multiple fronts, and as a young black man in America, I feel as though my very existence is always in jeopardy. I’ve felt this way for years, but nothing has changed. Trayvon Martin’s murder was the awakening for me. I had just turned 17 at the time, and his birthday was just a few days before mine. I couldn’t help but see myself in Trayvon, and the fear from that shook me to my core. Tragically and unfortunately, many more Black Americans have since shared his fate. Most recently, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, & Breonna Taylor (happy birthday angel ❤) had their lives snatched from them for no other reason than that they were black. Millions in all 50 states have taken to the streets, amid a global pandemic, because they are sick and tired of this recurring nightmare. Telling these freedom fighters to ‘vote’ simply isn’t enough.
This week isn’t the first time that protests have spilled into the streets, but these protests just feel different, don’t they? Seeing these people become victims of police brutality while protesting that very issue has been disheartening and enraging. However, it is this righteous anger that will help change the world. Many of our elders feel that ‘if we all just vote, then it’ll all be fine.’ This sounds good, but it is just not accurate. The #BlackLivesMatter Movement began during Barack Obama’s leadership, our nation’s first Black President. We achieved this great feat via historic voter turnout from the entire country, but especially from the African-American community. We had a Black Attorney General, in Eric Holder and a Black Secretary of Homeland Security, in Jeh Johnson, and yet police brutality and systemic racism still terrorized us all. It is for that exact reason that young activists will completely ignore you if you only ask them to vote.
Voting is the first step. It is an important step, but it alone will not bring about Black Liberation. I’m sure that most of us understand this truth, but we need to get better at verbalizing it. First, we need to be honest about what voting has done for us lately. While historical voter turnout helped deliver the nation’s first Black President, that Administration left a lot to be desired. Ignoring this reality, even if you don’t wholly agree with it, will only destroy your credibility with the activists and youth that we need to reach in this moment. Owning that disappointment doesn’t have to be pinning it all on Obama, we all know that right-winged racists have that covered. We can also turn some of that attention to ourselves as well.
Contrary to popular belief, major legislative victories are won via mass organizing like we see right now. People are taking to the streets. Tough conversations are being had in our personal lives. We need to educate ourselves and our communities on how our levels of government work. Community meetings and the mass mobilization of an army of well informed and determined grassroots activists all over this country is how we change things. The Civil Rights and Women’s Suffrage movements serve as historical evidence of this. You might not be good at all of these things. You might not be good at any of these things, but you can still make a difference.
We won’t be able to depend on one person or a small group of people to liberate us. We all have to play a role in our collective liberation. We can’t solely depend on leaders like Martin and Barack to secure our rights and freedoms. We all have to be just as ambitious as they were, and twice as determined! I know that this may seem like a lot, but it’s just giving what you can to the movement for the greater good. We need to build a collective understanding that there is no magic wand to make all of the oppression and pain go away. It’s going to take hard work, from every single one of us.
We do need to vote, but we also need to take voting more seriously. Just filling in the ballot for the candidates with a (D) next to their names won’t cut it. We need to go to the candidates with a list of demands, not the other way around. After they’re in office, we can’t rest on our laurels and assume that they’ll take care of the rest. We have to be actively engaged, and hold our elected officials accountable at every turn. Their power comes from us, and they’ll only do what we allow them to. There is a rising consciousness not just in the Black community, but in the American constituency overall. It’s been great to see, and it provides me with hope for the future in these very bleak times. However, if we don’t adequately capitalize on this moment, we will be right back where we have been for over forty years. Stagnation is not an option, and as we are constantly reminded, our lives are on the line.