Desiree Cooper reminds of our civic and community responsibility.
The movie Black Panther has morphed from a box office hit into a cultural force. Not only has it ignited black pride, demonstrated black selling power and affected how we greet each other, it has also awakened our civic consciousness. Almost immediately after the movie opened, people began posting on Facebook: "Black Panther II opens Nov. 6, 2018 at a polling place near you!" What's more, the Electoral Justice Project (an offshoot of Black Lives Matter) began registering voters at screenings of the film nationwide. But I fear that all the vibranium in the world won't save our civilization if African-Americans don't actually show up at the polls for the critical primaries on Aug. 7 or the midterms on Nov. 6.
And the sad truth is, too many citizens of Wakanda don't vote. Even after the exalting, still-surreal election of our first African-American president in 2008, African-Americans failed to return to the polls for the midterms in 2010. (Black voter turnout was 65.2 percent in 2008 compared to 44 percent in 2010.) This is not exactly an indictment of black voters. Midterm voter participation has been terrible since the 1840s before blacks, or women or 18-year-olds, even had the right to vote. But the fact remains that those who arguably have the most to gain from political engagement – people of color and the economically oppressed – tend to vote the least.
There are perfectly logical reasons for not voting, as in, "It doesn't matter who's in office, my life still sucks." But I'm hoping that the election of the current president has made it crystal clear that it really does matter who is in the White House and that no matter how hard your life is, it can be made worse by elected officials who don't have your interest at heart. But there are also structural reasons why the chronically disenfranchised never make it to the polls. They're not apathetic or lazy or uninformed; they're being actively obstructed from voting. For them, even when there's a will, there may not be a way.
Since the days of poll taxes and literacy tests for former slaves, the establishment has worked tirelessly to disenfranchise black voters. That's not just the history of Reconstruction – that's today's reality. According to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, legislators flooded the country with more restrictive voting measures after the 2010 midterms. To date, nearly half of the states have enacted new restrictions on voting, including stringent photo ID requirements, shorter times for early voting and registration restrictions.
We now have a chance to prevent any such efforts in Michigan. A coalition of organizations – including the Detroit Branch of the NAACP, the ACLU of Michigan and the League of Women Voters of Michigan – have formed their own justice league to "Promote the Vote" in Michigan. Together, they are pushing for an amendment to the state constitution that would protect and expand our right to vote. "The amendment would automatically register citizens to vote when doing business at the Secretary of State's office unless they specifically decline to register," says Kary Moss, ACLU of Michigan executive director. "It would allow people to register anytime with proof of residency."
Other changes would include allowing all registered voters to vote absentee for any reason and adding safeguards to prevent vote tampering and election fraud. But there's one catch. None of these reforms will happen without you. In order to place this petition before the voters on Nov. 6, Promote the Vote has to collect and submit 315,654 valid petition signatures by July 9. That means we're in the final push. It also means that, in order to preserve our own right to vote, we have to exercise our voice now. We can't afford to let past obstacles threaten the future of our democracy. Don't forget, my fellow warriors: We may be automatic citizens of Wakanda, but we must continue our fight to be citizens of the United States.
To help circulate Promote the Vote petitions, contact the NAACP or Jessica Ayoub of ACLU of Michigan at [email protected] or 313-578-6832. The proposed amendments are not yet law! To vote in the Michigan Aug. 7 primary, you must be registered by July 9; to vote in the Nov. 6 general election, register by Oct. 9.