How can I unlearn this toxic lesson when it’s so deeply embedded in our everyday lives?
I’m amazed when I hear people say that they don’t vote. I’ve felt this way in the years that preceded the current dumpster fire of an election trail, and that feeling has been magnified tenfold by our dire current state of affairs. As of this writing, America has less than two weeks until Election Day, when those of us who cast our votes will choose the next president of the United States.
And I’m terrified.
I’m terrified that all of the smart, with-it people I’m aware of who are eligible to vote simply won’t, and that the majority of people who do vote will vote for Donald Trump. I know, I know, I’ve seen the polling and his dreadful performances in all three debates, but I don’t underestimate the extent to which intelligent and reasonable people may abstain from a fight, while bigots and buffoons will bring backup and be demonstrably loud and wrong for as long as they can.
I understand the reasons why someone who is eligible to vote would not want to; that’s not the amazing part at all. It’s shocking to me that people let those doubts and concerns actually keep them from exercising such a hard-won right, but the doubts and concerns themselves make total sense. I have them too!
The U.S. government may be more advanced and less outwardly corrupt than that of some other nations, but it’s certainly not some paragon of perfection. Particularly as a Black woman, I side-eye our government and elected officials often, especially the judicial branch. Full faith in our government feels foolish and childlike in its inherent optimism; it is not with gleeful abandon that I envision us collectively skipping down to vote, but I still think we should do it.
Personally, I think our government, and society as a whole, are poisoned by systemic ills that show up in ways both large and small, and that we need large-scale reform, the likes of which I don’t foresee coming to fruition in my lifetime. But I still think we should vote.
As reported in the Washington Post with data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Black women voted at a higher rate than any other group in our country’s two most recent presidential elections, and four years ago, 74 percent of eligible black women went to the polls. Ninety-six percent of those Black women voted for President Obama, and we are largely credited as a group with cementing his success in both elections.
There’s an overwhelming fear on the part of many that the upcoming election won’t see as many Black women voters because there is not a Black candidate running. That may sound overly simplistic, and even insulting in its myopic view of race, but the nuanced ebb and flow of intersectionality is such that many of us feel, at times, more aligned with a Black man than with a White woman. This can happen even when the man’s ideologies don’t line up 100 percent with ours.
Social media conversations like #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen and #GirlIGuessImWithHer illustrate how left out we often feel in certain feminist spaces where white leaders draw lines along racial divides or espouse feminism without specific awareness of racial and ethnic diversity. If the female candidate or any white woman in or running for public office is eloquent and thorough on feminism but fails to sufficiently address racial injustice, it can feel like being made to choose: Be Black OR be a woman.
It’s frustrating, it’s dehumanizing, and it’s just as good a reason as any to stay the hell home on Election Day.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. While society chips away at the massive wrongs it has to right, and our (White) female Democratic presidential candidate boldly brought up white privilege at the first debate, Black women can continue to not only make our voices heard, but dominate at the polls.
#BlackWomenVote is a new initiative to help us do just that. It was launched by Higher Heights, which is “the leading national organization exclusively dedicated to advancing Black women’s political power by ensuring they have the tools to engage, advocate and lead in their personal and professional communities.”
Higher Heights for America, a national 501(c)(4) organization, and its sister organization Higher Heights Leadership Fund, a 501(c)(3), are dedicated to harnessing the formidable political presence of Black women as not only constituents, but candidates.
As its mission statement says, “#BlackWomenVote provides the latest election news, commentary, and tools for Black women to prepare to vote, and get out the vote within their social networks. We are reaching Black women all across the country to activate their networks and giving them the tools to raise their voice, cast their vote and flex our collective voting power.”
As I perused the #BlackWomenVote site and the conversations it's started, three things struck me the most:
1. It’s completely nonpartisan.
Like, totally and admirably so. As much as I will personally shout out #NeverTrump and #ImWithHer, a voter information and activation campaign that did so would betray its own intentions to inform and empower. Dedicated campaigning for or against a particular candidate or party, however appropriate I think it may be when it comes to Black women, just isn’t the same as emphasizing the power of the vote overall and encouraging us to wield that power.
2. It’s not just all about November 8, 2016.
CLEARLY that’s kinda the main event right now, but it’s not the last election most of us will be around for; not by a longshot. We want to show up and show out on the 8th, but there’s no age cap for eligible voters, so poll prowess can be a lifelong way to participate in our government.
3. It’s not just about the president.
As one of the Higher Heights cofounders Glynda Carr reminds us, “this November, 34 of the 100 U.S. Senate seats and all of the 435 House of Representative seats are up for election. There are Governors races in 12 states, and 5,920 of the country’s 7,383 State Legislative seats are up for election. There are municipal elections in 46 of the country’s 100 largest cities, including 25 Mayors races.”
I admit that, although I’ve voted on a local level, I could be soooooooo much more aware and informed when it comes to the many levels to which we elect officials, exactly who’s running where, and what they stand for.
Along with cofounder Kimberly Peeler-Allen, Ms. Carr and Higher Heights are seeking to educate Black women to impact our governmental leadership at every level and to make our voices heard right where we live, not just at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
I don’t blame anyone who’s fed up with the many things about our country and the electoral process that deserve fed-up-ness. If we’re keeping it a buck, centuries of systemic denigration from slavery to voter suppression (still in progress, btw), collude to give Black women a very unwelcome impression, but we’re here and we have this powerful right that shouldn’t go to waste.
Abstaining from participating in the voting process is not tantamount to fighting racism or sexism; it’s the opposite, because your voice is not heard at all. Aren’t we invested in saying and showing that we matter? Disappearing doesn’t accomplish that.
The #BlackWomenVote campaign was launched on the birthday of civil rights leader and voting rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, October 6. Ms. Hamer organized and encouraged Black people to register to vote. She also worked for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which fought racial segregation and injustice in the South. In 1964, she helped found the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.
Fannie Lou Hamer is just one of the many who fought for our rights and who knew that even after laws were changed to allow us to vote, laws that were unjust to begin with, education and mobilization are their own battles, and they are ongoing. Learn, mobilize, and vote. We’ve got the power.