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  • Writer's pictureStephan Garnett

Black America: Vote For Your Lives

Police attack civil-rights protesters marching from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., in March 1965

I heard it again today, just as I’ve been hearing it for the past month; too much over the past month: Young Black Americans who say they plan to vote third party on Nov. 3, or even worse, that they aren’t voting at all.

Their reasons vary from complaints about the Democratic party taking Black American votes for granted, to Joe Biden not announcing his support for reparations, to Kamala Harris locking up too many Black men when she was a California prosecutor.

But I have one question for these self-righteous African-Americans who claim they are so deeply concerned about their fellow men and women of color: What the hell do they think Donald Trump plans for Black America? And if their answer is anywhere in the realm of “we’ll see,” then I won’t thank them for driving us all off a cliff!

It seems superfluous to mention it at this late date, but I’ll say it once again to any Black American who doesn’t think it’s important to vote. Your vote matters!

That is especially true in 2020. This presidential election has pit a man who could possibly put this nation back on a path to something like a democracy against a blatant pathological liar and a shameless racist, who will promise anything to avoid the prison cell he knows is waiting for him.

I’m the first to admit that Joe Biden isn’t perfect. I’ll follow that up by challenging anyone to show me a political candidate who is. Even Barack Obama was criticized by some Black Americans for not doing enough for the Black community, as if one man could eradicate the wreckage caused by 400 years of brutal slavery and discrimination in just eight short years.

What Barack Obama did was establish a national healthcare plan that benefitted a huge percentage of Americans, including African-Americans. He restored a failing economy that put a sizable number of Americans back to work, including African-Americans. He saved the U.S. auto industry, which also saved thousands of jobs, including the jobs of African-Americans. No, Barack Obama never intended to be America’s Black president. What he sought to be was America’s president.

But how did Obama reach the American pinnacle of the White House in the first place?

He got there through the Black American vote. Obama’s 2008 elevation to President of the United States was a direct result of the most racially diverse voting in American history. Nearly one in four votes cast for Obama came from Asian, Hispanic and African-American voters.

According to Pew Research, white voters comprised 76.3 percent of a record 131 million voters in 2008. African-Americans, just slightly more than 13 percent of the American population, made up more than 12 percent of that vote, outpacing the 7.4 percent Hispanic vote and the 2.5 percent Asian vote.

In short, an unprecedented turnout of Black voters propelled Barack Obama to the White House.

Those votes didn’t come easily. They came after decades of peaceful protest that was too often met by violent resistance. I know. I grew up watching it.

I saw Black college students harassed and spat upon at lunch counters in Greensboro. I saw Black children knocked down by water hoses and attacked by vicious dogs in Birmingham. I saw the bodies of four little girls pulled from the ruins of a bombed out church in Birmingham, and the unearthed remains of three young civil-rights workers pulled from an earthen dam in Neshoba County, Mississippi.

I saw 600 marchers beaten by police officers on horseback in Selma.

These people suffered and died to secure the rights of African-Americans, and the most primary of those inalienable rights is the right to vote. Black Americans who refuse to vote are spitting on the graves of those who died to secure them that right; they are trampling on the memories of brave people like Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat on a bus, and Jackie Robinson, who refused to get off a bus, and John Lewis, who was beaten to the ground, and James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, whose murdered bodies were pulled from the ground.

African-Americans who refuse to vote or waste their votes are disrespecting the bravery of men and women like Fred Shuttlesworth, Diane Nash, Andrew Young, Daisy Bates, Jesse Jackson, Ralph Abernathy, Ella Baker, Joseph Lowery, James Bevel, Dorothy Cotton and Martin Luther King Jr. All these courageous Black Americans, and more, fought for the right of Black people to vote, to choose their leadership, to have a voice in who governs them and their children now and in the future.

As a child watching the carnage of the Civil Rights movement on a small black-and-white television, I remember the fear and confusion I felt. I could not understand why my mother and father insisted that I come and sit by them and watch people who looked like me being attacked and beaten. Then my father wiped away that fear and confusion with a steadying hand on my shoulder and these words: “These people are doing this for you.”

I have never forgotten those words.


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