If You Need a “Cause,” Please Dear God Make It Voting Rights

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

In a stunning election, Democrat Doug Jones defeated Republican (and generally awful human being) Roy Moore for Alabama’s open Senate seat, giving the red-as-hell state its first Democratic senator in two and a half decades.

The news, however, came with a number of important caveats, chief among them that white voters — particularly white women voters — largely voted in step for Moore, despite his number of wildly terrible issue stances and the fact that over half a dozen women had accused him of sexual misconduct and assault when they were teenagers. In fact, early exit polling shows that almost two-thirds of white women voted for Moore compared to the 98% of Black women who voted for Jones.

Refinery29 editor Ashley Edwards already eloquently explained that no, it’s not on Black people (and specifically Black women) to “save” everyone, particularly white voters who are the reason for this mess in the first place.

What I’m also annoyed with, however, is that many people are glossing over the fact that many organizations that serve Black voters in Alabama put in hardcore grassroots work to make sure those voters turned out and had their votes counted. So much effort went into checking that these voters knew there was an election, were registered to vote, understood their voting rights despite the state’s discriminatory voter ID laws and obstacles for procuring “official” identification, and then voted for the correct candidate.

Journalist and activist Al Giordano tweeted a excellent thread explaining the extraordinary efforts of the NAACP in Mobile County to get those votes cast and counted, for example.

Doug Jones’ win builds on what we already figured out last month during the 2017 election night: Long-term grassroots organizing works, especially when it’s done by people who know the community and the voters they’re trying to reach. But there’s another layer to this: If those people are intimidated or barred from voting, the work educating voters and getting them to go to the polls goes down the drain.

So here’s what I propose: If you’re still looking for a “cause” that really speaks to you, I suggest making that cause voting rights, because the situation is dire. During Alabama’s election, for instance, there were stories of police showing up at voting precincts to arrest anyone with outstanding warrants. Other voters said that they were told by precinct workers that their voter status was “inactive,” and they needed to fill out a form that required them to list the county they were born in to be able to vote. And two years ago, well before this election took place, the state had actually closed DMV offices in predominantly Black counties before partially reversing its decision.

Alabama’s just the beginning, and if we want any of the other issues we care about to succeed, we need everyone — and that specifically includes people of color, folks from low-income communities, and others — to not be dealing with this bullshit at the polls.

The good news? We all have the ability to create a new era where voting rights are restored and protected for all Americans, and we’re not starting from scratch. One example is Stay Woke’s petition to create a ballot initiative that would restore the voting rights of people in Florida who’ve committed a felony. Currently, 1.7 million Floridians can’t vote due to the state’s complicated (and often expensive) process for reinstatement, which totals a significant portion of the state’s 20 million residents. In particular, over one-fifth of Black residents have had their voting rights taken away.

In another volunteer-led effort, residents in Michigan have gotten over 350,000 signatures in three months to get a 2018 anti-gerrymandering initiative on the ballot that would create a new nonpartisan way for the state to redistrict itself. If the initiative passes, those newly-created districts could mean big changes during elections and for the state at large.

The bottom line? People keep talking about uplifting Black women and people from marginalized communities. If we’re serious about equality, that starts with giving them a chance at the ballot box to let their voices a chance to reign supreme. So if you’re sitting here thinking about what you can do, it’s time to lace up your shoes or fire up your cellphone and actually get out there. Donating money to these causes is good, but giving your time? That’s invaluable.

Lily Herman is a contributing editor at Refinery29. Follow her on Twitter. The views expressed are her own.

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