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We all know someone who isn't going to vote this election. Sometimes it's out of deep frustration and disappointment, and sometimes it is out of immutable skepticism. And let's admit, too: They aren't necessarily wrong. With all the inaccurate information, doomsday reporting from national outlets, and tepid responses to injustice from progressive political officials, many voters—particularly Black voters—have a right to feel disillusioned.
Anoa Changa sat down with three Black women voting advocates to discuss this very issue at Scalawag's As The South Votes Town Hall, in partnership with PEN America.
Watch the recap of the full As The South Votes Town Hall event:
Many voters—and organizers—are critical of the Biden/Harris ticket, but don't have a good alternative to offer. Is that voter suppression? How do we combat this specific kind of disillusionment?
Talk to people in terms of what they actually care about.
"If Black Liberation is our North Star, then electoral justice should be the lighthouse on our way today," Bennett said. "The people who are suited to address the real material conditions of our people's lives may not be our faves. But I have faith that people are gonna do what they're supposed to do."
Shelton agreed, citing the differences in how we use the terms "militia" as opposed to "gang," or "thugs" versus "terrorists" as indicators of a dialogue that forms a narrative about who is and isn't included in the national conversation.
Her solution is to ask people directly to speak on their personal values, finding ways to connect the broader concepts on the ballot to those decisions that affect their everyday lives.
"Tell me what your values are, tell me what you want your grandchildren to know about what you did in this moment to make it right," she said.
That connection back to dis- and misinformation is even more relevant when it comes to national politics.
"All we are about is becoming a political home for our community, no matter their party affiliation," Shelton said. "We're not getting caught up on 'sides.'"
Khondoker stressed that voters can—and should—trust that local organizations in every state are doing the work of defending the voting process and what happens after election day. If justice is not served, that's not the responsibility of the voter to predict and act on prematurely—there are contingency plans.
"After the election is over, you are still viable in bringing a better future," Bennett said.
Arekia Bennett has organized and empowered youth across Mississippi over the last 10 years. She serves as the Executive Director of Mississippi Votes, a statewide, millennial led, civic engagement non-profit organization that has engaged over 500,000 young people across the state. Since 2018, Mississippi Votes has registered around 15,000 new voters, many of them between the ages of 18 and 39, and many of whom were formerly incarcerated and or in prison. Mississippi Votes also advocates for policies to expand voting access in Mississippi.
Aklima Khondoker is All Voting is Local's Georgia State Director. Prior to joining the campaign, Khondoker worked as a staff attorney and the senior manager for the Voting Access Project at the ACLU of Georgia, where she focused on first and fourth amendment issues, women's reproductive freedoms, and voting rights. Her voting rights work in Georgia includes both litigation and advocacy. She's been involved in the development and execution of voting rights strategy that has included crafting policy and regulatory proposals, partnership development, monitoring local election boards, and successfully advocating for more voting sites.
Ashley Shelton is the Executive Director of the Power Coalition, a statewide 501c3 table in Louisiana. The Power Coalition uses a broad-based strategy that combines community organizing, issue advocacy, and civic action all while increasing the capacity of community organizations throughout the state to sustain and hold the work. Their integrated voter engagement approach has changed policy at the municipal and state level, and moved infrequent voters of color to vote at higher levels.