I love that millennials are becoming activists as seen in the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) and Black Lives Matter (BLM) movements. However, I am disturbed that for all the activism, some still did not vote. “My vote doesn’t matter” is oft repeated. If you want the government to change laws regarding student loans or move towards affordable higher education, then you should vote. If you say black lives matter, but do not vote then you dishonor the sacrifice of Dr. King and others who were beaten, arrested, and died so that you may cast your vote. If you want equal pay, then vote. If you are tired of juries acquitting cops of murdering black men, women, and children, then vote. Although nationally you feel your vote has little meaning, locally your vote has more impact on who sits on court benches, who is called for jury duty, removing district attorneys who abuse prosecutorial discretion, and allocation of funds. Your vote is your passport and admission to the great experiment of democracy. Many OWS and BLM protesters were dismayed that politicians did not pay them any mind. If eligible millennials all registered to vote, you would have had Bernie instead of Hillary because your numbers are greater than the boomers. In order to make your voice heard and to garner a seat at the table, you must first be a registered voter. Then you must align yourself with other organizations that believe in your cause. You have the numbers to change the world and the power to disrupt the political landscape to “fight the powers that be,” if you show up at the polls in the same numbers you attend protests and marches.
Ferguson, Missouri is a prime example of why your vote matters. Ferguson has approximately 70% black population. Yet, when Michael Brown was killed by police officer Darren Wilson, ThinkProgress noted “50 of its 53 police officers are white. So are five of Ferguson’s six city council members. The mayor, James Knowles, is a white Republican.” Many youth protested and marched in the wake of Michael Brown’s death. The true test came less than a year later when Ferguson elections were held. Would the numbers at the polls reflect the numbers that came out to protest? In a previous article, I noted that “in order for Black Lives Matter to have longevity and succeed where other movements failed, they need a threefold cord consisting of: academia, experienced organizations (civic and religious), conjoined with the strength of their youth and the power of social media. Black Lives Matter chapters need the same number of protesters to be at the voting booth in order for politicians to make their agenda a priority. Unfortunately, in Ferguson, after all of the protesting, voter turnout was disappointing.”
As Aamer Madhani noted, “In the Ward 3 race, which includes the area Brown was from and where many business were destroyed and looted in the unrest, only 19% of voters cast ballots. To be certain, participation was up dramatically in Brown’s home ward. In 2012, the last time there was a contested election in the ward, only 6 % – just 168 voters – bothered to cast ballots.” In the end, a year after Michael Brown’s death, only two African Americans were voted on the city council.
WHAT’S AT STAKE
If nationally your presidential candidate does not win, your vote locally has a greater impact – judges, district attorneys, prosecutors, eligibility for jury duty. In many states, most judges are elected. Have we forgotten about the judges that took bribes from private prisons to send juveniles away? Unbridled police actions breeds impunity. Brutality protected by police code of silence culture spawns public mistrust of those that are supposed to serve and protect. Officer Friendly has been replaced by “officer slam.” Recall the Central Park Five and Trump leading the charge to execute innocent men. Were you outraged when a judge gave a rapist a light sentence for “20 minutes of action?” Are you tired of over-policing in your neighborhood making minor infractions criminal? Attorney and activist Nekima Levy-Pounds noted that “schools have become a microcosm of mass incarceration,“ with cops as disciplinarians instead of educators. Children and teens are arrested for not having hall passes, throwing a snowball, joking, farting, passing love notes, and violation of uniform code by not wearing a belt.
Chicago voters sent a message to Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez in the wake of cops lying about Laquan McDonald’s death. They voted her out. That is the power of your vote. Tired of seeing a jury that does not reflect the diversity of the population? Register to vote. You will be summoned for jury duty in no time. If your vote did not matter, why are some always trying to restrict access to vote via gerrymandering? Your vote has the power to change America.
I hear people say Obama did not do enough. The political science major in me cringes. Did these people fall asleep in civics or US history class? To avoid a monarch, we instituted separation of powers. There are three branches of federal government to prevent this via the executive (presidential), legislative (congress), and judicial (Supreme Court). All of this is at the federal level. Yet, most of government that impacts your daily life happens at the state and local (city/county) level – elected officials who value their constituents like a Willy Wonka golden ticket. It is not enough to just show up every four years. You need constant pressure defense in order to make sure politicians and the political system works for you. Our democracy was based on active participation by citizens.
Let’s use basketball. When people discuss possible NBA championship teams, they examine three things – coach, players, and management. All three impact whether a team has a chance at the title. Similar to our three branches of government, the coach is like the executive branch, players are like congress (we the people are the representatives and politicians are senators), and management is like the judiciary. For those that said Obama did not do enough, it is equivalent to saying Popovich did not do enough to help the Spurs beat the Warriors, or Jordan did not do enough his first years in Chicago to bring a championship home earlier. The coach or one player alone does not ensure victory. Championships are a team effort, even if you have a super star. From the day Obama was elected, Republicans said they would vote against any measure he put forth. Even with a super-majority, not all Democrats backed Obama.
I have not agreed with everything Obama did. However, his chances of making major change were hampered. Voters needed to put pressure defense on elected officials to remind them why they put Obama in office and the expectation that elected officials would do the same or they would be voted out. Do not blame our democracy for your vote not mattering when you don’t even show up to the polls. First, entry to the game is being a registered voter. Second, it requires pressure defense on elected official all four quarters, not just the last ten minutes. Our democracy requires citizen participation to ensure elected officials are representing constituents’ interest. And if they don’t, our recourse is a technical foul, removing them from office. D up! Let’s go defense!
POWER IN NUMBERS – A VOTING BLOC
If you don’t think the government represents your interests, there is a reason why – your group doesn’t vote. If you do not show up, you can’t win. Your voter registration puts you in the game.
According to U.S. Census data, overall turnout in the 2014 midterm elections was 41.9%, but there are dramatic differences when the numbers are broken down by class, race and income level. Just 1 in 10 Asian and Hispanic Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 voted in the 2014 midterm elections, meaning white Americans over the age of 65 were six times as likely to cast a ballot. These differences in turnout have real consequences for how well-represented young, poor or minority Americans are in government, and taking steps to increase turnout among these groups could have tangible effects on policy. – Sean McElwee
Ironically, you have the numbers to create a voting bloc that cannot be ignored. Asma Khalid noted, “Millennials are now as large of a political force as Baby Boomers according to an analysis of U.S. census data from the Pew Research Center, which defines millennials as people between the ages of 18-35. Both generations are roughly 31 percent of the overall electorate. [Unfortunately], millennials continue to have the lowest voter turnout of any age group.”
BERNIE, THE DNC & THE NEXT PLAN OF ACTION
Commentator Ed Gordon said, “A movement is only as good as its plan.” Many Bernie supporters were millennials. The DNC screwed you. I recall in college, voter registration drives were massive, especially among Democrats. First, I was not a Hillary supporter for the primary. Second, Democrats have a bad habit of being short sighted. You would have thought they learned from the Obama-Clinton 2008 primary. In November 2007, Hillary “tells CBS’ Katie Couric that she will be the Democratic nominee, and that the nomination will be sewn up by midnight on Feb. 5, 2008 (Super Tuesday).” She was very dismissive of Obama and his chances. Obama’s base and campaign foot soldiers were college students and millennials. Hillary ignored this group in 2008 and again in 2016, especially the Black Lives Matter youth when she felt her super-predator comment meant nothing.
Like Obama, Bernie’s base was also college students and millennials. Hillary was also dismissive of Bernie and his chances. Had the DNC mobilized voter registration across college campuses, it would have been a death nail to Hillary securing the nomination. Bernie would have received the nomination and dare I say be President-elect instead of the other guy. It wasn’t that America was not ready for a woman president, they just didn’t want Hillary to be that woman. When given the choice of Hillary or Trump, naturally I picked Hillary. But if Elizabeth Warren had run or Margaret Chase Smith was reincarnated, either would have my vote over Hillary.
So, what’s next? The DNC is reorganizing but it still seems the old order is in place. Time for you millennials to apply pressure defense. Remind them that you are here. You are registered voters, and if they want to take Congress and the White House in 2020, they’d better listen to you. You have the numbers. You have the power. At the local level, apply pressure defense to mayors, aldermen, judges, city council, and prosecutors that are ignoring your calls for gun control and an end to racial profiling. Contact Bernie’s people and ask how you can be the change locally to effectuate change nationally.
Mobilize like you did with Standing Rock for #NoDAPL. Take the best of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and the Black Panthers to create strategic alliances with groups that have a shared interest. There is strength in numbers. Steven Sapp noted, “Fred Hampton’s Rainbow Coalition, consist[ed] of the Black Panthers, Young Lords, Young Patriots, members of the American Indian Movement, Brown Berets, I Wor Kuen, and even the White Panther Party. It is important for us to see this type of unity that existed then and should continue now. It is this type of effort that should cross color lines, to show that liberation is a human struggle that can crush white supremacy, and will fight it as a coalition.”
The strength of the Black Panthers was their community based initiatives. Dr. King understood an alliance with attorney Thurgood Marshall and diplomat Ralph Bunche was essential. Malcolm X knew empowerment was key. Occupy Wall Street utilized social media in ways not before seen. Bob Marley sang, “Get up, stand up for your rights! Don’t give up the fight!” The first step is being a registered voter. The second step is a pressure defense on elected officials through alliances with organizations that support your cause. Use your voting power to disrupt the political landscape!
Also published on HuffPost.