Vote to remove the knees on our necks

OPINION: Do not fall victim to the strategy of those who seek to oppress us by believing that you are better off withholding your vote

As a Black woman with two sons, I have found these past months to be unimaginably difficult. We have been inundated with videos of Black men being killed in cold blood in the street, haunted by nightmares of Black women being killed in our homes, battered by tales of Black bodies swinging from trees, and taunted by tales of Black trans people being killed and then misgendered in the subsequent reports.

We hear whispers of protestors disappearing into state custody, being murdered, and becoming disfigured or dying from the vicious brutalities of the police. Who do you call when your life is in danger and the people who are supposed to protect you are the people you fear the most? 

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As I have grappled with this question and its accompanying physical results—migraines, nausea, and the inability to sleep—my mind keeps screaming: “We have been here before!” These times are reminiscent of my parents’ youth and eerily similar to my grandparents’ before that. 

Three months ago, I became the executive director of the Andrew Goodman Foundation. The organization is named after Andrew Goodman, who was murdered by the Klu Klux Klan along with James Chaney and Michael Schwerner in 1964 during their efforts to assist in creating equitable voting for African Americans. Fifty-six years later, Andy’s story would seamlessly flow into the daily atrocities we read about in our newspapers.

(Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP via Getty Images)

People still have to decide whether it is worth risking their lives to participate in the activity that is our most basic American civic duty: voting. One of our students, Tamia Fowlkes, stood in line with her immunocompromised, cancer-surviving grandpa during the Wisconsin primary in the midst of a global pandemic protected by nothing but a thin paper mask because she believed that their voices needed to be heard. 

We all watched in horror as Georgia gagged the voices of their citizens during this past primary. I was particularly triggered because this election marks exactly 20 years since I faced those exact same suppressive tactics in Georgia when I attempted to vote for the first time in the 2000 presidential election.

As a first-year student at Spelman College, I worked as a community organizer to register voters in Georgia. Despite all the work I had done to ensure the right to vote for so many others, when I went to the polls with my confirmation card I was turned away. I will never forget that day. I had never felt so un-American, disenfranchised, or invisible in my life, which is saying a lot as a Black woman. That feeling changed the entire trajectory of my life. I channeled my frustration into action and successfully lobbied the Georgia State Legislature to enact a law that allows a voter to cast a provisional ballot, which can later be verified and affirmed if a poll worker has trouble initially confirming registration. Seeing what happened in Georgia last week brings back the visceral anger that I felt all those years ago. 

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To be sure, I am angry. I know you are too. Enough is enough! We are tired of being silenced. This is why the Andrew Goodman Foundation is suing states that engage in voter suppression. The governors and state legislators who are enacting laws designed to stop students, Black Americans, and other traditionally marginalized groups from voting are doing so to maintain the power structure that keeps a knee on our necks. Our successful lawsuits against the states of Tennessee and Florida have emboldened us to keep fighting against those trying to prevent citizens from participating in our democracy.  

I understand how easy it is to feel disillusioned right now. It is hard to be hopeful. It is hard to find a moment of respite to recharge when virtually every day we brace for more bad news, which undoubtedly comes. But, I implore you to stay angry. Continue screaming, crying, protesting, and demanding. Keep that same energy all the way to November. Do not fall victim to the strategy of those who seek to oppress us by believing that you are better off withholding your vote. Remember that our system was literally designed to silence Black people, women, and young people. Do not willingly tie your own gag. And for the love of God, vote!