By Dr. Kerry Mitchell Brown
The direction and future of this country — and with it the direction and future of Black people — will be determined by significant elections, at the national, state, and local levels, in the coming months and over the next series of years. We have the power to determine our politics!
This year is but another episode in the long history of voter suppression in the United States — a history that continues to weaken our democracy. The right that freedmen were granted to vote under the 15th Amendment in 1870 continues to be under attack. Between 1871 and 1889, almost all Southern states passed laws that restricted Black people’s right to vote. In Georgia and South Carolina, Black voting was cut in half between 1880 and 1888.
Even when Black people did vote, many of their ballots were stolen or not even counted. These restrictive laws continued into the 1960s, until President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibiting any restrictions on the right to vote. This included poll tests and voter intimidation. It followed through on the promise of the 15th Amendment.
Don’t believe people when they say your vote doesn’t count. If it doesn’t count, why has there always been so much effort to keep Black people from voting? The attacks on our vote are no longer the literacy tests, poll taxes, or grandfather clauses we learned about in our middle school history books. Since the reelection of President Obama in 2012, Black voters have been faced with new voter suppression laws and tactics, voter registration problems, voting roll purges, strict voter ID and ballot requirements, voter confusion, voter intimidation and harassment, poll closures and long lines, malfunctioning voting equipment, disenfranchisement of justice-involved individuals, and gerrymandering. All this to make us feel that nothing will change or that voting is a worthless exercise.
Participation will give us the power to change systems and structures so they work for all of us, not just a tiny few who continue to shut us out while they make laws that advance their interests and wealth. If we listen closely they occasionally slip and tell the truth. Take Paul Weyrich, the “father” of the right-wing movement and co-founder of the Heritage Foundation, Moral Majority, and various other groups, who stated that he doesn’t want everybody to vote because “our [the right wing’s] leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down”.
Every move to suppress our vote — our citizenship — has been met by a countermove that has moved us and our society closer to the ideal of an inclusive democracy. It is time for a 2020 countermove. It is necessary that we assert our role and our responsibility to our community and ourselves as citizens through voting.
There are a number of ways to vote. First things first, you must be registered to vote. If you are not yet registered to vote, you can register online in minutes.
Once you are registered or if you are already registered, you can exercise your right to vote in several ways, even during a pandemic:
Absentee/Early Voting/Vote By Mail – Most states have an option for casting your vote via mail prior to election day through absentee or early voting. The actual rules, process, and timeline varies by state. You can explore the Early Voting Calendar by state for details.
Local Polls – You can still vote in-person on election day at your specific polling place on November 3, 2020.
In this political moment, the data shows that the participation or non-participation of Black people will be a deciding factor in elections. Voting is a political act of Black love. Your Vote DOES Count!