Piece 12: About This Right to Vote

Peace by Piece

This post is part of a year-long series. If my work is helpful for you, consider a contribution through Venmo to keep the anti-racism work going.

Last week, I asked about when you may have pushed back against the voices of people of color in your life when they’ve told you they’ve experienced injustice. I did a version of this very thing myself just a few weeks ago, when a trans friend mentioned JK Rowling’s controversial, bigoted views, and I speculated aloud that Rowling’s particular brand of feminism probably didn’t include the experiences of black women. While my speculating may have been understandable, it served only to push myself to the center of a conversation that wasn’t about me. I was just as wrong in that moment as the white woman in the workplace who listens to her black colleague’s account of being treated differently, only to assert that the reason for that different treatment must be because she is a woman and not because she is black.

Honestly, in both cases, discrimination isn’t necessarily spread equally across marginalized groups because we want it to be so that we, too, can feel included in the exclusion at hand. This week’s piece will focus on a different kind of exclusion: that of voters.

When I began this series, I did what teachers do: I made a plan. Although I have adjusted that plan by moving topics around to reflect current events or to include new resources as I have come across them, neither of those is the case for this week. I planned to write about voter suppression this week because it’s an election year – I had no idea at that time that USPS would be under attack, thereby threatening to slow down or prevent ballots from being received by mail during a pandemic that makes mail-in ballots a necessity for more people than in most election years. When I made this schedule, I didn’t know that the primaries in some states would have already been a virtual catastrophe: social distance ignored in some places while voting locations closed in others, even while people were still queued outside waiting to exercise their right to vote.

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In light of all this, it’s an especially important time to act to end voter suppression. Therefore, this week’s resource isn’t something to read, watch, or listen to. Rather, this week’s suggestion is to act. Sign the petition, request your ballot early, call your representatives, and buy a sheet or two of Forever stamps. Should you take these steps, you will undoubtedly be helping the Us Postal Service in its time of crisis.

However, this is not enough.

Across the nation – and especially in the south, including Texas – election years find polling locations closed and voters purged from rolls in areas overwhelmingly populated by ethnic minorities. What this means is that people who are American citizens, who are here legally, who have not lost their right to vote as a result of having committed crimes (which shouldn’t happen anyway), are unable to exercise their right to vote. The very right to vote that heroes like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rep. John Lewis, Diane Nash, Rev. CT Vivian, and Annie Lee Cooper fought for us to have, is still being denied to people of color. The same right to vote exercised by many Black Americans during the too-brief era of Reconstruction, before Jim Crow and grandfather clauses and literacy tests, is still being denied to people because of the color of their skin – and presumably, because of how they will likely vote.

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Even if you do not consider yourself a patriot, even if you do not vote yourself for your own personal convictions, even if your state or community is not impacted by closed polling places and long lines and early closing times, I hope that you are bothered by the idea that people who have the right to vote and want to do so, can’t. I hope that bothered feeling moves you to act on their behalf. Donate to the causes working on behalf of voters across the nation. Share the petitions calling on our elected officials to properly serve their constituents. Text the numbers that automatically generate emails to your representatives.

And vote. Even if you can’t vote for every category because of your own conscience, please exercise your right to choose who represents you and works on your behalf, making decisions that impact your community. 

Several years ago, one of my students looked at me and earnestly asked me why people should vote if they really don’t feel that any of the people on the ballot represent them. I thought a minute and then answered him directly: If you don’t vote while you can, then you may not be able to vote when you want to. In many places – Texas included – voter rolls are purged of people who are inactive voters. It’s not right. I don’t believe it’s constitutional. But it happens. And voting at every opportunity is the surest way I know to ensure you continue having the ability to vote in the future.

As for me and my house, I am the only person who can vote. I have young children and an immigrant husband. My vote represents us all. Your vote represents more people than just you as well.

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When you reflect this week on what the 2020 election might look like, and for whom you may cast your ballot, I hope you’ll consider the following:

  • What can you do to help ensure that people in your community are registered to vote?
  • How often do you vote in local elections? Do you keep informed of the issues on the ballot and/or do research before going to the polls?
  • Here in Longview, we’ve had some tense county commissioner meetings regarding the community effort to remove the confederate monument from in front of the county courthouse – the very place where these meetings take place. Much of the recent attempts to sway the commissioners to move the monument have amounted to one basic tenet: holding our elected officials accountable to represent us. Have you held your elected officials accountable for their decision-making? Do you feel they are adequately representing you as part of their constituency? Is your voice being heard? What about the voices of marginalized people groups in your community – are they being heard?

Keep showing up each week to do the work, y’all. Even and maybe especially when we are worn down and want to give up and go home, it’s vital to keep moving forward toward the way of justice and equity. Peace – when we attain it – will not be a victory easily won; we will have fought for it, one piece at a time.

Piece 7: Do justice

Peace by Piece

This post is part of a year-long series. If my work is helpful for you, consider a contribution through Venmo to keep the anti-racism work going.

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Writer James Baldwin once said, “Precisely at the point when you begin to develop a conscience you must find yourself at war with your society.” In answer to my question last week of when and where are the right time to protest injustice, I’d say the right time is as soon as you develop that conscience Baldwin speaks of, and feel moved to protest. If that conscience-developing moment comes when you are a young person who is tired of not receiving food service because of the color of your skin, then it’s the right time to sit in at a lunch counter. If that conscience-developing moment comes when you are a school-aged child who wants to attend integrated, well-funded schools, then it’s the right time to walk out of school with your classmates. If that conscience-developing moment comes when you are a celebrity who wants to use your platform to draw attention to worthy causes, then it’s the right time to start a foundation to help inform and empower the next generation of changemakers.

For the past month and a half, I have shared podcast suggestions, movies, TV episodes, and books. Today, I want to point you not toward sources of information to take in, but toward points of action.

Seek out and patronize black-owned businesses. Many businesses these days have online storefronts. Take Crayon Case and Honey Pot, for instance – these two businesses are founded and run by black women, and their high-quality products can be shipped right to your doorstep. I encourage you to look for businesses that provide goods or services you regularly use, so you can patronize them on a continual basis. Once you find a product you love, be sure to like and share the business’s social media pages with your emphatic review. By intentionally diversifying the businesses we patronize and freely sharing our positive impressions, we can draw attention to people in our communities who are sometimes overlooked, and we can contribute in a small but meaningful way to restorative work.

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Donate to organizations that are actively involved in justice work. Through the Equal Justice Initiative, Bryan Stevenson has led a team of individuals dedicated to educating the public about dark, often overlooked aspects of American history, and advocating for incarcerated people, especially those whose families live in poverty. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund approaches race-related justice work through litigation and advocacy. The Southern Poverty Law Center is a hub for education and remembrance, in addition to carrying out the important work of tracking hate groups’ activities, to help people remain informed and safe.

Donate to victims’ families. The list of victims of police brutality is long and horrific, particularly when you consider that in most cases, the victims’ killers are never brought to justice. Although we cannot bring back any of these lives that were senselessly cut short, we can call, email, and write to legislators to advocate on their behalf. These cases need to be investigated and murderers brought to justice. And we can donate to victims’ families and protesters’ bailout funds, knowing that an immense amount of time, money, and expertise will be required to bring killers to justice and ultimately, to reform a historically jacked up legal system.

This week, I will ask you to consider these questions:

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  • What actions have you taken in your own life to work toward healing racial rifts?  
  • Who have you begun to read and follow in order to broaden your understanding of marginalized people’s reality? 
  • How will you fulfill your role within the larger movement for justice in this country? 
  • What will you do to ensure that tomorrow is better for your black and brown neighbors than yesterday and today?

Once you decide which actions you can take and reflect on your purpose in this newly awakened racial justice space, come back next week so we can keep working toward peace, one piece at a time.