Journey to Justice

Black Voters Matter and the US Presidential Election

Martin Luther King speaks to crowds at 
March on Washington in August 1963

“Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”
Martin Luther King Jr.

The United States is just days away from one of the most consequential elections in modern American history. So far, 2020 has been anything but predictable. 

Back in May, racial tensions exploded across the United States as George Floyd, an un-armed Black male, was killed in the street by a Minneapolis police officer. Tensions were re-ignited in September after a grand jury acquitted police officers in Louisville, Kentucky, who shot dead Black medical worker, Breonna Taylor in her home.  

Over the last few months, the nation lost two American icons who served as advocates for justice and equality. Civil rights stalwart John Lewis died in July from pancreatic cancer and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg succumbed to the same disease just two months later. All of this occurred with the backdrop of a global pandemic which, so far, has taken 230,000 American lives, and sparked an economic downturn unseen since the Great Depression. 

Many are calling this the most important election of their lifetimes, and for Black Americans, whose voting bloc has the power to determine election outcomes, there has never been such a crucial time to vote.

Black Voters Matter (BVM) is a non-partisan organisation committed to the mission of engaging America’s Black voters in the electoral process. Carol Blackmon is BVM’s Mississippi Co-ordinator, and she has spent her life fighting for civil and human rights. Her own grandmother, Alvana Blackmon, played a part in Mississippi’s civil rights history as she was listed in Mississippi’s Sovereignty Commission Files for attempting to register to vote in 1964, one year before President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law.

Carol Blackmon, Black Voters Matter Mississippi Co-Ordinator

As co-ordinator of Mississippi’s chapter, Ms Blackmon facilitates training, resources and capacity-building to their 25 partner groups who seek to reach marginalised communities throughout the state.

Ms Blackmon said: “I’m based in Jackson but a lot of work that we do is in rural communities across the state. We try and help folk to make informed decisions about elections and census work.”

With resources provided by BVM, partner organisations can carry out all-important voter registration drives. At a canvassing event in Greenville, Mississippi last week, Ms Blackmon met a 91-year-old African American woman who had never voted. With the help of their partner organisation, the Southern Black Women’s Initiative for Economic and Social Justice, the woman registered to vote and is preparing to cast her ballot in this year’s election. She told organisers: “I want to go to the polls so that I can vote like everybody else in person.”

The main purpose of the organisation, Ms Blackmon stated, was to make people know that they matter. She said: “Our goal is to ensure that Black people in the community utilise their power and one of those strong powers we feel is at the polls.”

To spread this message, BVM are currently on their ‘We Got the Power’ interstate bus tour, travelling to communities throughout the South and South East United States. Ms Blackmon said: “We were on the bus in the Delta earlier this week and it’s amazing how people are excited to be around it. People want them in their communities all the time!” Due to their popularity, BVM hired a fleet of 30 smaller buses to reach as many potential voters as possible ahead of Election Day.

Another goal of BVM’s is to educate voters on the constitutional issues which the electorate have a say in. On November 3rd, Mississippians won’t just be choosing between Biden and Trump, but they will vote on a series of these ballot initiatives. This year, voters will choose a new state flag after the previous design, featuring a Confederate symbol, was removed by lawmakers. Ms Blackmon said: “For years, we’ve had a flag that actually represented the civil war and Jim Crowism from the South. We have an opportunity to select a new flag that’s truly representative of all people in this state. I think that’s wonderful.”

Looking ahead to Election Day, Ms Blackmon believes this year’s election cycle is unprecedented. She said: “The pandemic is really driving people to feel there needs to be some change and people want their voices to be heard.” The younger generation are one group who have demonstrated this urgent need for change. Ms Blackmon said: “We’re so proud of the next wave of leaders. They are stepping up and doing what needs to be done.” 

Ms Blackmon also expressed her fears about the “very real threat” of voter suppression in this year’s election. In an earlier interview, she said: “I think people should figure out that there has to be a reason, especially for Black people, why we were not allowed to vote for so long. People need to understand that if we don’t vote, we are doing what some of the folks in power want us to do.” 

Voting equality is yet to be a reality in the United States in 2020. But Ms Blackmon suggests that in the meantime, we follow John Lewis’ advice and “keep getting into good trouble.” 

By Hannah Simpson

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