By Kirk Clay
Can Anger and Frustration Be Channeled to Achieve Significant Gains in Politics?
Two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, enslaved People of Color
(POC) in Texas received word from the Union Army on June 19, 1865, that they were free. Today, that date is remembered and celebrated as Juneteenth and it commemorates the celebration of freedom for all Americans. It is also the day Election Protection – a program designed to protect all American’s right to vote – was launched. The pilot program was launched in Virginia’s 2001 special election to fill a seat in Congressional District 4.
I remember the day we began Election Protection – it was in response to the November 2000 election disaster. Progressive Whites and Voters of Color (VOC) in many states registered and turned out in record numbers, but many were turned away or had their votes invalidated. We all know the story line of that election. But, in the discussion about which candidate won or lost and why, what is often unnoticed is that the biggest losers were, without a doubt, the voters.
Just like the disenfranchisement of 2000, floods of regressive laws that are being passed in red state legislatures today are hurting voters. The Tea Party extremists behind these initiatives remind us of how fragile our voting rights really are. In fact, VOC still face a combination of systemic inequities, inadequate voter education, and inappropriate actions by government officials. To make matters worse, as expressed at a recent anti-immigration rally, many of these obstructionists believe “The Melting Pot Floweth Over.”
There is a real danger that the actions of these politicians could fuel cynicism and apathy in our democracy. What if potential young voters and voters of color (VOC) respond by reaffirming the sentiment that their vote is unlikely to change this dynamic? This is especially a problem among first time voters that made strides last year in electing officials that share their interests. Note that these voters are historically marginalize in mid-term elections anyway and are more likely to get stuck in a long line or have their votes discarded altogether. But along with that vulnerability, there is the real problem of intentional voter suppression.
For example, while voters under 30 were 21% of the electorate in Virginia in 2008 that number dropped to 10% in 2009. Also, voters waited an average of 23.6 minutes to vote in 2012 and their number didn’t match 2008.
This could be pivotal in a district of influence – Congressional district that is not necessarily majority minority but has enough diversity to impact the election. Like Virginia’s CD-4 which is close to 5% Latino, 31% African American, 2% Asian and President Obama garnered close to 50% of the vote.
That’s why it’s so important to invest in these communities early. These near-tragedies of generational subjugation can be avoided with a cross platform civic engagement program. You can shape the future of politics by taking compassionate measures and advancing the authentic voices of our movement. That process begins with embracing diversity. The greatest gift we can give to our future leaders is an opportunity to vote.
In the end, getting young people to engage in politics is like trying to push a boulder over a hill. When you have a strong progressive coalition to help, that boulder begins to move more quickly. For better or worse, young voters of color will move to the next phase during which the boulder will begin to charge down the hill. The impact of this rolling stone could be epic. Politically, you do not want to be on the other side of the boulder. #NJ123
Kirk Clay is Senior Advisor at PowerPAC