With the election season officially underway with the launch of a new civic holiday last week — National Black Voter Day — and National Voter Registration Day this week, we are in desperate need of a new narrative about the Black youth vote. We know that all eyes are on us this November. When it comes to voting, people are asking, will they or won’t they vote? Even in the midst of the uprising as a result of George Floyd’s murder, people asked if Black youth would take this same energy from the streets to the ballot box.
Black youth are a part of the largest voting bloc, Generation Z and millenials, in America this election year. And what a year it is — young people are on the frontlines fighting to dismantle white supremacy, defund the police and demand justice for Black lives all while being disproportionately impacted economically by the coronavirus pandemic. It is time for a more nuanced conversation that doesn’t just stop at the personal responsibility of voters, but also includes society’s responsibility to take care of its citizens.
When it comes to voting, we can’t just look at the voter. We must also look at the system that makes it harder to vote. There is no doubt that since the Voting Rights Act was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013, voter suppression and discriminatory voter laws have been designed to block communities of color from the ballot box. Between 2012 and 2018, there were 1,688 polling place closures in states previously covered by section five of the Voting Rights Act.
As young Black voters head to the ballot box this November, there are several things on their minds. In a monthly tracking poll of young persuadable voters in battleground states conducted by Alliance for Youth Action in partnership with Civiqs, ending systemic racism and discrimination and worries about losing their job, or the inability to pay bills, rent or a mortgage because of the coronavirus were mentioned as the top concerns.
The Black-led organizations and Black youth organizers in the Alliance for Youth Action network understand the nuance and are changing the narrative by working 365 days a year to build youth political power and make a change in our communities — and this year, that work is even more urgent. Young people have not waited for Election Day to fight for the change they want to see.
On June 18, after years of organizing, Leaders Igniting Transformation in Wisconsin won their fight to end all contracts between the Milwaukee Police Department and Milwaukee Public Schools. Their organizing efforts culminated in a 700-person rally and over 1,000 testimonies that eventually put pressure on Milwaukee Public Schools to begin the pathway to building safe schools where the voices and experiences of young people are centered.
Following the murder of George Floyd and in the midst of the uprising in the Twin Cities, Minnesota Youth Collective opened their office doors as a supply site. From frontline protestors to those who had been displaced, Minnesota Youth Collective was able to support members of their community by serving as a resource hub. Young people showed up to donate, to sort donations and to take donations to where they were needed. Organizers posted on social media and shared critical information for protesters and supporters of the uprising.
In Mississippi, due to voter suppression, antiquated voting laws, lack of voter education and lack of investment in vulnerable communities, Mississippi Votes launched #Up2Us — a voter registration, voter protection and get-out-the-vote campaign focused on mobilizing young people. Since the inception of #Up2Us, Mississippi Votes has registered 15,000 new voters and, for several years in a row, has been among the top field organizations in the country on National Voter Registration Day. In 2019, they turned out under-represented voters in 18 counties and impacted five key races. They are continuing this work today with the goal of engaging over 200,000 young voters state-wide through canvassing door-to-door, text banking, phone banking and more.
The leadership of Black youth during this summer’s uprising led to changes at the federal and local levels, but there is much more to be done. More than ever, it is crucial to amplify the voices of Black youth organizers and the issues that impact Black youth to not only get out the Black youth vote, but to push candidates on the issues that matter to us, and hold candidates accountable once elected. It is also crucial to fight voter disinformation and voter suppression targeted at Black voters to ensure voter access to the ballot box.
For us, voting is one important part of the work to move toward progressive change, but just like our humanity, it must be part of a bigger picture. It is about voting and direct action, voting and organizing, voting and civic education. It is more than just voter participation. It is about participating in our democracy. We know our power isn’t only in the voting booth. It is in the street, at the city council and running for office ourselves. In 2020, Black youth demand that Black lives truly matter, fight for Black liberation and ensure Black people in the United States are seen in their full humanity, not just as voters.
Throughout this election season, our network, staff and volunteers are calling, texting and mailing voters to register them to vote. The Alliance just launched our #VoteReady hub where voters can start making their voting plan today, because one of the ways we can fight for our democracy and protect our right to vote is by making a voting plan and making it early. We will show up this election season to not just vote for the next leader of the free world, but also for state and local races. No matter who is in office, the fight for Black lives will continue.
When the progressive movement succeeds, it’s because of the people-powered local organizations putting in the work. Young people have the answers and must be invested. Like our ancestors, the Black youth of today are willing to put themselves at risk to vote and fight for what is right. No matter how we plan to vote this fall — by mask or by mail — we will be #voteready and we will prevail.