by Valerie Morales
In the anxious weeks before election day, when COVID was an oppressive enemy on the prowl, and professional football was a diversion, black voters stood in line for hours, emboldened by in-state early voting. The recipients of voter suppression endured all kinds of peculiar weather and circumstance. My cousin brought food for her two hours wait. Some had chairs and the Eddie Glaude book about James Baldwin. Or, Isabel Wilkerson’s “Caste.” Others had ears plugged and were jamming to WAP on Spotify. A few put in pizza orders for in-line delivery.
Those who couldn’t miss two hours of work sat at their kitchen table after the baby was asleep and the laundry was done, and the dishes washed, and unfolded their mail ballot in the bleeding light of a tiring day. They checked Kamala Harris and dropped it in the mailbox on the way to the office, hoping it got to where it was supposed to go. Some black voters got text messages that their votes would be counted. Others prayed. Many knocked on doors or made phone calls and asked “did you vote.” Churches made it a priority and so did neighborhood rib shacks. Before handing you your order of rib tips with the extra sauce they wanted to know when you were going to vote, and where.
Poll workers and watchers, and those who felt the crushing of their spirit by Donald Trump racism, were adamant. After the lethargic effort that put him in office in 2016, black voters weren’t going to be the whipping boy. If Trump won, blame white supremacy, not black laziness.
In those anxious days, no one could have imagined that black voters as a bloc would have the numbers to rip the presidency away from Donald Trump’s cruel grip. Nor did they think that in response he’d be so humiliated by what black people did to him on election day, Trump would have to slink out of town, not attend the inauguration, not welcome the next President and First Lady, incite a riot, lie that he didn’t incite a riot, nurture more white grievances than when he took office. Plot his failed revenge.
Before he lost and claimed he won, I walked around my primarily black neighborhood and signs were everywhere. From Dump Don to Kamala Is my Sorority Sister to Black Lives Matter. “This is what our ancestors have fought and died for- the freedom, liberation, and survival that they knew they would never live to see, but they knew that it was so important for generations to come,” said Alencia Johnson, the former Planned Parenthood strategist who was a Senior adviser to Joe Biden, and before that an advisor to Elizabeth Warren.
Often, we have strayed away from the intentions of those whose blood we have absorbed as ordinary. Wrapped up in the mundane trials of our modern lives we forget past atrocities that continue to linger and foment. Social media gives the false impression of equality just because we can emote and dramatize but social media is also responsible, in part, for our collective stagnation.
Mercifully, there were 15 states who witnessed the stubbornness of those who couldn’t forget. The buses of Black Voters Matter crossed state lines, particularly in Georgia whose BVM activists texted 2 million messages. Black voter registration in Fulton (Atlanta) and Gwinnett counties surged by 40% while the black population in those two same counties only increased by 6%. Targeting Georgia was an intentional strategy.
“It’s one of those few moments where we have this power to shape the future for ourselves,” said Stacey Abrams who is credited for the black voter surge in her home state of Georgia because of her organization Fair Fight. It still isn’t a fair fight, not by a long shot, but because of Abrams and other activists who were relentless and tireless, a xenophobic narcissist who nurtured white grievances is out of the White House.
According to Pew Research, 30 million African Americans were eligible voters in 2020. It’s a big number to digest, particularly when efforts to suppress that number have taken on religious zealotry by the same people who use Martin Luther King as a prop. But this election cycle, black voters knew right from left and were more stubborn than they ever had been about casting their ballot. In-person. By mail. The how didn’t matter because the why was transcendent. Be who our ancestors were, the ones who died for the right to vote.
The power of the black vote was such a devastating outcome that the GOP sued over 60 times to invalidate black voters like my mother who is 82 years old. And when that didn’t work, when it failed drastically, when they couldn’t even harness the symbols of their fake outrage, they staged a coup, sore losers as they were, suddenly complicit in Capitol terrorism and a bunch of other crimes.
They loathe facts because it shrinks their view of entitlement. But in four years, black voters have increased their share of the electorate by 1%. African Americans used to be 11.5% of all voters. Now they are 12.5% of all voters. That extra 1% is responsible for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the most powerful people in the nation.
Pew Research also discovered that 63% of black voters were extremely motivated in 2020. They voted early. In Georgia, eligible black voters made up 32% of the electorate. When Donald Trump and his cronies were attacking Georgia, when Trump tried to bully the Secretary of State to find extra votes, he was trying to erase black voters the same way Jim Crow tried to erase black votes. He wasn’t slick about it either. We were on to Trump’s games. He wasn’t going to cast us aside.
In Baltimore, Detroit, and Philadelphia, Black Girls Vote pushed for voter registration, mail-in voting, and going to the polls early. Natasha Murphy of Black Girls Vote said “the efforts around voter education, mobilization and registration highlight the critical importance of grassroots organizations, like Black Girls Vote, and the role we play in truly engaging and reaching all portions of the American electorate.”
LaTosha Brown who co-founded Black Voters Matter had to school a bunch of folk during the election, particularly those who love to diminish the importance of black voters and grassroots organizers. “The fact that we have matched and topped white voter participation and done that while going through voter suppression in new and old forms every year, we are extraordinary. That’s what I know.”
I am the Voice of the Voiceless founder Vivian Underwood Shipe said “I have voted since I was 18 and always vote the first hour and first day of early voting as I did this time. I am inspired every election to vote as I know the importance of the effect it has locally. This election, however, was especially important. The soul of the country was on the line. This election shows that the voice of the people of color is powerful.”
In August, I had a COVID social distancing outdoor party that overlapped when Kamala Harris was giving her first speech; everyone in attendance, a crowd of ten, wanted to be inside. With masks stuck to faces, we crowded around the television set, prideful and teary. Many in the room were AKA’s. Many were nurtured by HBCU’s. We felt a part of Biden’s presidency because we were a part of Kamala’s black excellence story.
Antjuan Seawright, a Democratic strategist and public relations professional noted that “even when we’re suppressed, depressed, or misinformed, we still show up.” Not really. We didn’t show up for Hilary Clinton. Anticipatory anxiety accompanied this voting cycle because no one really knew how African Americans would behave and if what happened in 2016 was just cyclical or was it a crack in the foundation?
One of the concerns was young black voters who are often too self-absorbed in social media feeds and swiping left or right to care about voting. But as a group, they were traumatized by George Floyd’s death and the subsequent weaponization of Black Lives Matter. 88% of them voted for Biden.
On election day in Milwaukee, most who showed up at the polls were first-time voters; the polling precincts were mostly empty because of early voting and mail-in voting. Churches, grassroots organizations, sister to cousin to friend texting made the difference.
Black Lives Matter activist and Congresswoman Cori Bush said, “To all the counted-outs, the forgotten-abouts, the marginalized and the pushed asides. This is our moment.” She went on to talk about a revolution and for just a moment, in a small lens of engagement, the revolution was actually televised.
On election night 2020.