Will protesters march into voting booths this year?
Hundreds of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in every state to protest police brutality, bigotry, and the glacial pace of change in this country. Will they also vote?
By Yvonne Abraham, Globe Columnist
Hundreds of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in every state to protest police brutality, bigotry, and the glacial pace of change in this country. Will the movement translate into votes? Or will the injustices and disappointments that have driven young, Black, and brown Americans into the streets now also keep them from the polls in November?
Yes, and yes.
Over the past week, voting advocacy groups have reported encouraging spikes in registrations, volunteers, and donations. Tens of thousands of new voters, many of them young and Black, have been added to the rolls.
But some of the people who are in the streets are there precisely because electoral politics have let them down, with politicians from both parties delivering incremental or no change, or worse. And not just when it comes to policing, but on climate change, and in every corner of this country’s lopsided economy.
They’re not convinced by the suddenly enlightened corporate press releases, or by the politicians saying the right things after decades of resistance to measures that would keep police brutality in check; or even by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and US Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer kneeling in kente stoles as they announced long overdue policing reform legislation that is likely going nowhere.
“We have this symbolic action with Schumer and Pelosi on their knees with African garb on,” said Wilnelia Rivera, a political strategist who helped steer Ayanna Pressley’s successful congressional campaign. “But we are not speaking to the truth of this moment.”
This is not the moment to try to convince those folks to trust the system one more time.
“They lived through two Clinton administrations, a couple of Bush administrations, and two Obama administrations, and now this. So if that’s how some Black Americans feel, let’s embrace where their humanity is, and focus on everybody else,” Rivera said.
Cheryl Clyburn Crawford is in the business of registering people to vote, yet even some members of her own Black family question whether their votes make any difference.
“I have a sister who is absolutely fed up with the system,” said Clyburn Crawford, executive director of the voter mobilization group MassVOTE. Except, she adds, she won’t be letting her sister skip the voting booth.
“Please. Right now?” she said. “She has no choice. Are you kidding me?”
Besides, she points out, if Black votes didn’t make a difference, why would certain politicians be trying so hard to suppress them?
On Tuesday, a statewide primary election in Georgia was a debacle, with hourslong lines at polling places and malfunctioning voting machines. Naturally, the disruptions were worse in predominantly Black areas. And Georgia isn’t the only state where Republicans have made an art of denying voters of color a voice in elections — witness Wisconsin’s disastrous election in April.
And all of this is made possible by the fact that the US Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in 2013. Since then, more than 1,600 polling places have been closed, most of them in communities of color.
The less power Black voters have, the more leaders get elected who are indifferent or hostile to their interests, the less power Black voters have. Nothing changes unless we break that cycle.
We’ve seen how that works here: The election of Pressley, and of Suffolk DA Rachael Rollins, prove it’s possible to send leaders into office who see the inequalities upon which our society is built and actually act on them. We have a ways to go before our city and state governments are “ready to center policies on blackness,” as Rivera puts it. Like Democrats in Washington, leaders on Beacon Hill have said the right things as the protests have unfolded, but she’s looking to the state’s upcoming budget to see where they really stand. Where they choose to spend or cut funds for schools, hospitals, law enforcement, and transportation in the next few months “will tell whether Black lives matter,” she said.
Though the scenes anger her, Clyburn Crawford of MassVOTE takes comfort from the sight of those Black voters waiting in line in Georgia.
“I applaud those people who waited, who would not be turned back,” she said.
Those lines would not exist if Black votes, and those of the people who care about them, weren’t powerful.
This story originally appeared in the Boston Globe. Check it out here.