Black Lives Matter — They Can’t Be Up for Debate Each Election Season

Many political pundits have spent recent weeks reading polls and speculating about the potential outcomes of the midterm elections. The 24-hour news cycle has been geared up for months, spinning all eventualities and their impact on the balance of power in Washington and how down-ballot races fueled by conspiracy theories will impact local politics. For us, grounded in the demands of our people who keep chanting that our lives matter, this political moment is important. But equally important is our vision for a future in which our rights are not determined by the ballot, but enshrined in just laws that are not up for debate each election season.

As students of liberatory social movements, stewards of the fight for Black liberation and members of communities whose self-determination and dignity are central to power relations in this country and globally, we have learned many lessons.

The first is that in the wake of every political uprising for social justice comes a strong and swift backlash. In the 1960s, when civil rights leaders organized and won significant legislative and judicial victories toward racial and economic justice, conservative factions implemented a vast and stealthy neoliberal agenda that promoted individualism, weakened unions and strengthened divisions between working-class people along racial lines. Similarly, today’s Black liberation movement has ushered in momentous political projects that have shaped the contours of modern U.S. democracy, including the 2020 insurgency of global proportions that contributed to the defeat of Donald Trump, propelling a new administration into power.

Though it is challenging to hold strong to our vision and the demands from the streets — especially when our communities are used as political scapegoats — that is the only solution. In fact, the backlash is a sign that we have shaken the foundations of white supremacy with our Black feminist, abolitionist demands. It is a sign that we are changing the terrain, when power has no choice but to respond. This country’s anti-Black and racist systems make it difficult for our communities to assert our power. We face barriers to organizing, protesting, voting and holding elected office. But these long-standing barriers also mean we have generations of practice coming together to fight for our collective freedom.

The second lesson is that all tools for justice have a place in our toolbox, including voting. Time and again, Black communities have led the fight for the rights of Black people, expanding what’s possible for everyone, from voting rights to immigration to ending police terror. We do this by organizing our communities, asserting transformative policy demands, and refusing to concede the ballot box because of long-standing political terror and campaigns of misinformation.

For example, according to the U.S. Commission for Civil Rights, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 increased Black voter registration rates in Mississippi from 6.7 percent in 1964 to 59.8 percent in 1967. In the wake of constant brutality at the hands of the police, the number of African Americans eligible to vote for president hit a record 30 million in 2020, according to the Pew Research Center. We have always taken our demands to the streets and to the ballot box. Now, we are calling for all those who can to assert their power this Black November. We are calling on each one of us to recommit to fulfilling the work we started in 2020 by accessing our right to show up and vote.

The stakes are high.

During these midterm elections, certain members of the Senate and all the members of the House of Representatives are running for election or reelection. We know that the results will affect the balance of power in Congress, which will impact what pieces of legislation get voted on and become law. During his administration, Donald Trump rolled back climate policy and allowed corporate polluters to run the show. He made racist and hateful immigration policy the cornerstone of his political agenda. He worked hard to sabotage the Affordable Care Act by making it so much harder for people to enroll and access health care. These are a few parts of the Trump legacy, and Trump Republicans have embraced Trumpian politics, vowing to pick up right where Trump left off.

There are also elections for state and local officials, ranging from governors to county judges, and ballot measures in certain states. Local elections and legislative efforts are the beating heart of our flailing democracy, as several states face a wave of anti-LGBTQIA+, anti-Black and anti-voter legislative proposals.

Many states are passing abortion bans that would criminalize abortion, and potentially even miscarriage. Trans youth are under attack, and at risk of being separated from their families. And conservative legislators are committed to defunding schools and pouring our tax money into bloated police budgets. Meanwhile, voters in five states — Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee, Oregon and Vermont — have an opportunity to abolish slavery in prisons, ending decades of involuntary servitude. These kinds of policies impact Black people first and worst. Our folks are under attack, and voting in state and local elections is an important tool. We leave no tools in the toolbox.

In fact, we know that democracy itself is on the ballot this November, as it always is. This is the third lesson we are holding close. Many of our folks have been disenfranchised due to the carceral state, which reaches into every aspect of our lives, including our ability to choose the policies that impact us and the politicians who govern in our name. It is essential for those who can vote to do so and to advocate that incarcerated people’s voting rights be restored.

We are demanding an expansion of voting rights through nationwide automatic voter registration; this would ensure that every citizen is added to the voter rolls without ever having to jump through hoops to register. We demand electoral justice by ending disenfranchisement of those charged with a felony, due to the over-policing and over-sentencing of the Black community in the U.S. One in sixteen Black people of voting age is disenfranchised. No one should ever be stripped of the right to vote. As we have always done, we are fighting for the integrity of U.S. democracy.

And finally, we know that parties and politicians who move to the center — sacrificing the ideals that they shout during election season and compromise away once they are in office — need to be held accountable. Black people in the U.S. deserve a government that specifically creates policies to meet the needs of Black families and communities. We deserve real pathways to healing and stability, not more concessions and excuses.

The current administration hasn’t done enough for Black people. And elections are opportunities to recalibrate power.

Organizers and advocates have fought hard for economic justice and relief, and the Student Loan Debt Relief Program, which admittedly does not go far enough for Black students and former students, is being held up in the Supreme Court by justices put in office by the Trump administration.

Black students are often forced to borrow at higher rates and hold disproportionate debt, reinforcing the racial wealth gap. Additionally, when Congress passed the Inflation Reduction Act, a bill which aims to curb inflation by reducing the deficit and investing in clean energy, they sacrificed Black lives. Decades of racist disinvestment and dereliction in Black communities led to environmental catastrophes like the Jackson water infrastructure crisis, which has left 150,000 people without clean drinking water. Although the Inflation Reduction Act included resources for water infrastructure upgrades, none of these investments have reached vulnerable communities.

This administration has yet to fully realize the promises it made to voters on the campaign trail in 2020. We want to see more and better in these next two years. In this midterm election, advocates for racial justice plan to turn out to flex the same political power that helped these leaders get into office.

We refuse to accept anything less than the policies that create and sustain the best conditions for our communities. We refuse the politics of the lowest common denominator, because that kind of calculation always cuts us out. We can imagine a world in which every Black person is safe and thriving, and we demand policies that will help us make that world a reality.

In this midterm election, we’re mobilizing voters to the polls to hold elected officials accountable by voting for the policies that imagine the best conditions for Black people. But the struggle doesn’t end on Election Day — we also need everyone who backs the ongoing movement for Black liberation to join a local organization and organize. Together, we are powerful beyond measure.