Updated: Oct 5, 2020
The past few months have been a whirlwind. COVID-19 shook the world in a way that most have never seen in their lifetime. We've adjusted to the new normal of wearing masks, online meetings, parties, and verzuz battles. We've tried new recipes, attended online workouts, and have seen a demand for accountability like never before. COVID allowed for all of us to see the effects of white supremacy and racism, from access to healthcare, lack of access to grocery stores, and the worsening conditions in jails and prisons affecting our people.
More than ever, we must organize our friends, our families, and community members. Nationally, Black voter turnout dropped 6% in 2016 compared to 2012, from 66% to 60%. This year, Millenials and Gen Z will make up about 40% of the voting population! When we vote we directly invest in ourselves and our communities. We get to elect our judges, District Attorneys, our Senators, our State Representatives, and local council and commissioners. If you have any questions, check out these voting faqs' from Rock the Vote or send us an email or dm.
Past the Ballot Box and Pushing for Radical Change
Past the ballot box, we have the power, tools, and ability to call our representatives, to send letters, and emails. We can attend city meetings, and town halls, and join local organizations that are doing the work around issues you care about. The 2020 Census decides how billions of federal funding will be allocated in your community for the next ten years. State and local officials also use this information to draw boundaries for congressional, state legislative, and school districts. You can respond today online at 2020census.gov, by mail, or by phone. We have to act now! Census stats show that Black folks are going extremely undercounted in this year's Census. Look at your state's response rates and if you or people you know haven't responded to the Census, do it TODAY!
Organizing is how we see shit HAPPEN in our communities. Here are some organizations that have been really making sure that our people are engaged and politically educated. There is so much work being done, from prison abolition to shaping policy and the Black Agenda and Census, bail projects, letter writing, resources, toolkits, and free training just to name a few! These organizations offer a political home to really dig into your politic and to radically transform our communities as we know them. Check them out: BYP100, Black Future's Lab, Movement for Black Lives, Southerners on New Ground, Dream Defenders, the Working Families Party, and many other Black and Brown organizers that are transforming our communities locally and nationally!
There are three types of elections, primary, general, and local elections. Primary elections or "Primaries" include Presidential Elections, and are usually held from around January to mid-June. Be sure to check your state's dates and deadlines. Primaries are where voters decide which political party and party candidate they will support. Here is what to know when choosing presidential delegates, shout out to some of my friends on their state's ballots!
General elections are held the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. General elections fill public offices from senators and representatives, county and city officials, to judges and governors and are held on local, state, and federal levels. Every four years, the General Election is also a Presidential Election.
Local Elections are where we see things that affect us the most, from traffic lights, road improvements, to abortion. Paying attention to your local elected official's policies and stances on issues that affect you like environmental justice, safe schools, and access to fresh foods is huge when talking local elections. It's important to not only know what candidates and/or elected officials support/don't support, but also where their money goes, and it's up to locals to hold their elected officials accountable. For example, the movement to #defundpolice, speaks to taking funding that is allocated to police departments budgets and allocating it to other community resources like childcare, extra money for textbooks, etc.
Recent elections included gubernatorial elections in Mississippi, Kentucky, and Louisiana. There were also several state legislative elections happening in Louisiana, Mississippi, the New Jersey General Assembly, and Virginia. This year, in the state of GA, there are several Senate seats up for grabs, in Fulton County, GA, we just voted out a long time, DA, and now have the first Black woman DA. There are also positions on the ballot like Public Commissioners, judges, sheriffs, Amendments, and Referendums (PAY ATTENTION TO ALL OF THESE AND LOOK THEM UP BEFOREHAND). Find out what's on your ballot here. This year, there are more women running for office and they need our support to get them elected! Our This Woman Votes tees celebrate women's involvement in political change. Get yours here!
Ensuring Safe Elections
Voting during COVID will look a bit different than it has. With citizens demanding for early voting expansion, protection for poll workers, voting by mail, and getting more youth involved in various roles, these changes will allow us to operate in an entirely different way. There is a major push to #SaveUSPS because while we depend on the US Postal Service for our regular mail, we want to make sure they have the capacity to operate with the predicted influx of absentee ballots. Volunteer to #protectthevote with Election Protection, there are in-person and remote opportunities available. I served as an in-person poll monitor, supplying snacks, PPE, and voter protection hotline information and also as a social media poll location monitor, which was super cool. Get involved today!
Vote-by-Mail and Absentee Voting
Vote-by-Mail looks different in every state. Despite what claims people have that voting by mail results in voter fraud, it's just not true. In fact, voting fraud is almost a myth. This is not to say that voter suppression and oppressive policies, laws, and other logistics do not play a role in lower turnout or underrepresentation of Black and Brown folks. Expanding vote-by-mail looks like automatically sending ballots to voters (this happens in only 5 states,) no-excuse absentee voting, no contact drop boxes, extended early voting, and returning ballots without having to pay for postage. Here is a google doc, created by our friends over at My Vote Matters Merchandise, with the Secretary of State website for each state. Your Secretary of State's website has voting laws, requirements for your state, and important dates to mark in your calendars.
Just this year, we saw the Cori Bush get elected to Congress, a freedom fighter and organizer, be elected by the people! When Black women fight, we win. In the past few years, we have seen more and more grassroots organizations mobilizing their communities to build lasting power on local and national stages, which means electing officials that are pro-Black and not just because they are Black...but because their policies and practices reflect transformative leadership with the hope of truly creating communities that care about us. In the city of Atlanta, the police department's budget has increased every single year. During the Rayshard Brooks protests, police officers were paid extra for their time as they tear-gassed and were violent towards our people. The surrounding cities including my own which also houses the "female jail" mirrors the policies and practices of the city of Atlanta. This is why it is on us, to call into meetings, to engage with officials on social media, to let people know what is happening, and provide ways for everyone to fight back at their own comfort levels.
Understanding the Ballot
There is so much power in being an informed voter. Do your own research, always. Find out what issues are most pressing for you (access to homes, healthcare, better education system, maternal mortality, street lights, elderly care, etc.). Are you concerned with student debt, access to grocery stores, quality education and school buildings, healthcare? Attend town halls, attend meetings that are open to the public. Send emails, write letters, make phone calls, engage on social media. There are so many ways that we can make sure our representatives serve the people. We must put power in the hands of the people and not into politics and property.
Here is how to create the perfect election day plan:
Check your registration and polling place. You can do so here. Make sure that your name, address, and DOB are accurate.
Schedule when you will vote, drop off/mail-in ballot. Voting takes less than 10 minutes. Would it be easier to vote in the morning before work, during lunch, or after work?
Research candidates! This is huge, you want to know who is on the ballot, and a brief history of work that they have done in your community or plans of what they plan to do. Do their goals align with yours? Do you think they will create or plant seeds for the community’s future?
Vote and share! Cast your ballot, and share a pic of your "I voted" sticker to encourage others to do the same.
Take the Census. Every ten years we can shape our communities by responding to the Census.
Join a political organization. Joining an organization will allow you to have a community to learn and truly make an impact in your communities with, through power building, political education, and demanding accountability.
Other things to consider on election day: Carpooling, are you able to get others to the polls? Plan to vote early if you can, many states have early voting policies, which help with figuring out how to schedule in voting on actual Election Days. Missed deadlines for absentees or voter registration, register here for the next election cycle.
I'll end with an excerpt from Malcolm X's 1964 "The Ballot or the Bullet". In this speech, Malcolm advocates for Black Americans to exercise their right to vote. He states the importance of being educated, especially in politics. He speaks to Black Nationalism and the idea of Black people controlling their own politics and politicians in their communities, instead of white elected officials who don't care about the community's people or its politics. He quickly follows with the tokenization of many Black community leaders. I linked a PDF and recorded copy of the speech.
I believe in People Power,
I believe in communities that are for us, by us.
I believe in local voting, and
I believe that we will create change.
I believe we can, because
Betty, Shirley, and Dorothy did
Alicia, Patrisse, and Opal did,
Ayanna and Cori did,
and we can too.