Song: FUBU by Solange. This past weekend, I had the opportunity to partner with Woke Vote, National Voter Registration Day, and seven Atlanta businesses to host a City-Wide Voter Registration Drive to celebrate National Voter Registration Day, which is a national holiday aimed at getting people registered before their state’s upcoming deadlines.
Getting reacquainted with my hometown of Atlanta, GA, post-graduation has been super hard when it comes to connecting, reconnecting and networking. In a city as busy as this one is, there are lots of opportunities for networking, but I want to be more intentional about the spaces that I am in. As someone who loves community involvement, when I am idle for too long, I feel like I am going to lose it. All of that to say, after lots of quiet time and being still (the process of waiting to feel/hear an ok to move,) the vision for the drive was born. Moving home, I knew that I would continue to fight for access for my people, but I wasn't sure how, I’m still not sure how, but here is a start.
Organizing my first event at home as sort-of an adult made me nervous. Will I reach people? Will people support the cause? Will they care? What will people think? I quickly forgot about all of that as I met more and more community members, some who are running for office, some who had been involved in “politics” or community engagement for as long as they could remember, and others who had gone to neighboring schools. What I loved about organizing this event was being able to go back to the communities that I was raised in, communities I attended school in, danced at, shop in, and get my hair done in. I was able to talk to community members and hear some of their concerns and opinions about their communities. From redistricting, charter schools, and bus stops to polling places, traffic lights, and insurance. These were the issues that were real and that were affecting my communities. These issues are also being reflected in the ballots for our local elections and talked about in our Town Hall meetings.
I was fortunate enough to have a team of volunteers to work with for this drive, because of them we were able to register more than 20 people at seven different sites across the Atlanta area and more than 60 new college-aged voters, with the help of Georgia State's Zeta Phi Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. 🥳 Many shared that this was their first time doing something like this, which is the goal. They quickly found out that getting people registered to vote was not for the faint of heart. I loved hearing the stories of the ups and downs of trying to get people registered to vote. Many were faced with ignored responses and declarations that they weren’t interested. Some got stories from our voting rights vets that “of course they were registered to vote, and had been voting since they got the right.” As I talked to many at their sites, they detailed how they made their own system(s) for trying to just get someone registered, which was a whole process of actually getting someone to stop, listen to your spill, and get their paperwork filled out. Plus, one more push to get them out and voting on election days.
There was a striking (but not really that striking) commonality amongst the volunteers, Black men did not vote.
Of all the volunteers, a common response they got was that black men did not vote and many did not care to. These men, around ages 21 to 50, had been convinced that they shouldn’t be involved in politics in any way shape or form. There were also several Black men who shared that they had been formerly incarcerated and had been told that they could not vote. The Georgia Justice Project had a handy document outlining whether or not a person who has been formerly incarcerated is eligible/ineligible to vote. Many Black men shared that “the Black man had been held down for so long” and “nobody understands the Black man” and “they don’t want the government in their business.”
Black men, we need you to vote. It is so easy to dissociate instead of "being the change you want to see." My mom, who also volunteered for the drive shared the story of how she got someone registered the vote.
"There's an intersection near my house and there have been a lot of accidents there. In just a few days, they will be installing a new traffic light. That is the power of local elections."
She then went on to say that the person agreed to register! Black men, you are not alone and you are supported and loved. Black women will continue to fight for you, and we need you all to stand with us too. Standing with us looks like coming to the polls, it means running for public office and fighting for issues that affect us. It means making sure that your disenfranchised people have access and opportunity, whether that's organizing community rides to the polls, as one community member said had been done in previous years, or showing up to voter registration drives. Representation matters.
Voter Registration Drives are one of my areas of passion because it is so intertwined with the everyday things that affect our lives, from transportation services to after-school care, and polling places. It helps you to see your people on a real level and causes you to meet and talk with lots of different people. The ability to vote should not only be seen as an honor but a right that should be exercised regularly because so many of us have experienced voter suppression from a system that is inherently designed to be against us.
To read more on voter suppression, check out Stacey Abrams Fair Fight and One Person, No Vote by Carol Anderson.
In a political climate such as this, we cannot afford to not vote. We must make sure that our friends, cousins, aunts, and uncles, sisters and brothers are all not only registered but are active and informed voters. You may be wondering, where can I find out this stuff or it may all be too much and the language may be a bit confusing. You're not alone, you have a family of others who are willing to make sure that we all understand what's going on and the role that we each must play. With the 2020 elections on the rise, it is important to not only know what issues are important to you but to understand that it’s bigger than that. We must build power in our communities by demanding and fighting for the changes that will improve the lives of others around you.
Here are a few of my favorite lines from Dr. Maya Angelou‘s "Still I Rise"
"You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise"
"Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?"
"Bringing the gifts my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave
I rise. "