Democracy is at a turning point in the United States of America. Legislatures on both sides of the aisle think that voting is the key to a greater America. A more equitable country. Pushback has ensued with some people both confused and upset at the constant reminder to “go out and vote.”
Undeniably, voting has been a coveted tool within the borders of America. At the beginning of American history, the Founding Fathers used the right to vote as a way to control population and policy. It was their way of maintaining order and dominance against the African slaves and white women, both of whom they deemed inferior.
On the other hand, my ancestors, Africans and African Americans, fought without break to ensure that this once unobtainable right to vote was protected. To most of the Black leaders dedicated to real change, voting is equivalent to your voice in a democratic society.
Similar to the past, voting seems to be the alleviant to current political chaos, in the eyes of important politicians and organizers.
Senator Kamala Harris tweeted “Your voice is your vote. Your vote is your voice.”
Former First Lady Michelle Obama said this at the Democratic Convention “If we have any hope of ending this chaos, we have got to vote for Joe Biden like our lives depend on it.”
Prominent figures echoed these sentiments.
As an African American woman, I cannot ignore the tireless efforts African Americans put into affording me the opportunity to vote. The blood shed, imprisonment and massacres my ancestors endured has to be remembered.
The late John Lewis left us with these humbling words “the vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.”
If so many people were willing to sacrifice it all for this right, then it has to be profoundly important.
I cannot imagine a world where brilliant leaders like John Lewis risk their life for a cause that is not immensely important.
On the other hand, the pressure to vote put on everyday Americans, specifically those marginalized by the very system they vote into, is confounding. Politicians are pleading with us to vote in November to stop the boundless chaos we continue to experience. Without doubt, Donald Trump is single handedly destroying America. Voting is in fact the only way to remove him from office and bring in someone new. But that does not invalidate the concerns of people frustrated with the system.
To the people adamant about not voting and boycotting democratic systems put in place, I get it.
I thought only the rich and white could vote…?
Arguably, voting is the most useful tool for real change. There was a point in time when Black voters did not exist. The denial of voting rights to Blacks was codified in the United States Constitution.
By way of the laws once put in place by the Founding Fathers of this country, our vote did not matter. It was not wanted. To John Lewis’s point, I am sure this denial of rights was a means of controlling Blacks. On the other hand, however, there is great irony in the reality that now the Black vote is held high amongst politicians.
Joe Biden is one of the many politicians calling on us to vote. In an interview with popular radio host Charlemagne the God, Biden expressed “if you have a problem with figuring out if you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t Black.” That comment rubbed most Black voters the wrong way. And rightly so.
The unfortunate underlying truth is Biden’s words are indicative of the narrative surrounding the Black vote.
Powerful, but only when controlled.
We could not vote, according to the colonizers. As a result, history tells us that the Black vote was not important enough to be protected early on in American history. Since then, white politicians have rarely tailored their messaging to Black people if it could not benefit them. Now, the Black vote is incredibly important. That is why politicians are pleading with us to use it.
The emotions of those questioning why voting is being pushed so heavily should undoubtedly be honored. When we put it in the most basic terms, the most powerful politicians and community leaders are calling on highly oppressed voters to vote their way out of hardship.
While the message from politicians is probably well intended, I understand the concerns of frustrated voters.
The system must prevail at all costs.
Voting into a broken system is a flawed solution. I am a Black woman who understands the power in voting, but my personal feelings, no one’s personal feelings, can outshine the reality in America.
The presidential candidates for this upcoming election have both passed and supported legislation that has worked to oppress minorities. Though the argument that they were politicians for their era is plausible, that cannot invalidate the pain they have caused within Black and brown communities.
Now, we are telling these same Black and brown communities to vote for Biden, “like our lives depend on it” because he is less racist and radical than Trump. We cannot possibly think that that reasoning will be enough. The reality is, we are backtracking this election, no matter who is selected.
On one side, Biden is the better of the two and one person must be victorious. But on the other, more concerning side, selecting Biden because he is the better option does not mean he deserves to be the President.
Joe Biden was a legislature for forty-seven years and he does not have one piece of legislation he can use as a definitive representation of his commitment to minorities. This is a cause for concern. Yet, unquestionably he deserves the Black vote. A legislature should never feel entitled to a block of voters. To say a vote can determine that “you ain’t Black”, is a threat to democracy as an institution.
The harsh reality is that the solution is not as simple as voting. Would voting help, I do not know. But what I do know is, when things are broken, we do not continue using them. We fix them. Our democracy should be no different.
Black people in America have been pushed to choose the best option out of the worst options since 1776. We are living in 2020, that is 243 years of settling. We are living in a country with deeply entrenched flaws that we keep using a band aid approach to fix. The Voting Rights Act, a law to overcome legal barriers within the voting system, was passed in 1965. That was fifty-five years ago.
I understand the concern over re-electing Donald Trump. The system today, is a system we involuntarily submit to. But when we turn on the TV, look outside, or read an article and you see the blatantly barbaric way African Americans are treated on a daily, we can no longer just believe that electing one man into office will change our fate.
As a Black woman, a woman that understands and respects politics, I have to say I am offended. To the politicians that do not look like me, to the voters that have never worried about their life or rights being stripped away, I encourage you show some empathy. To the Black politicians fighting the good fight every day, please encourage your friends on the aisle to upend the broken system.
I do not know that our vote can truly matter in this system. That is not to be confused with saying we should not vote. But to use rhetoric that suggests our voting will change our reality is unfounded.
Donad Trump is a bigot. A liar. And a cancer eroding the good that still lives in America. He must go. We must vote. Because today that is our best solution.
But, I question the politicians, specifically the white ones, that press us to honor and vote for them in a system that many of my ancestors died to change. To Joe Biden, if Black advancement and fundamental change is as important to you as you say it is, then change the system that said my vote did not matter.
I honor my ancestors, John Lewis, Malcom X, Ella Baker, Malcom X, James Baldwin, Dorothy Height and so many more, that thought enough of their people to fight for our human rights. To them our vote mattered.