Column: Black Votes Matter If We Want True Change

By Drew Stevens (@hismindonpaper)

Self-realization is a tough thing to deal with when the world is changing rapidly and you’re not a celebrity, or a billion dollar corporation.

Such profitable entities have pledged untold amounts of financial support to the #BlackLivesMatter movement in the wake of the delayed investigation into the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor in March and the death of George Floyd last month.

In observing this unexpected sea change, spurred on by our society’s increasing disgust for police brutality — and ongoing appeal to the masses for a more secure grasp of the straightforward, yet still somehow misconstrued, concept that Black American lives are significant, too — I’ve had to realize I am, at least in part, responsible for the perpetuation of a system that is in dire need of reform.

As outlined by former president Barack Obama a week after Floyd’s death, our mayors, district attorneys and state’s attorneys — not the commander-in-chief — wield the power to implement long overdue changes to our criminal justice system. As such, it is through the election of these state and local officials that we the people, who are both sickened by recurrent rampant acts of lawlessness carried out by individuals entrusted with our protection and hell-bent on putting an end to the unjust serial killing of black Americans by renegade policemen, can help set in motion the reform we wish to establish.

In what would surely come as both a shocking and disappointing revelation — and, justifiably, worthy of a slap upside my head — to my politically conscious and habitual-exerciser-of-her-right-to-vote mother, I have never cast a ballot other than for that of presidency in nearly 20 years of my own voter eligibility. The sting of that cringeworthy truth burns so much worse when read aloud than when simply left in the form of a thought, especially en lieu of recent events, but how can I be an advocate for change and encourage other people to take advantage of their right to vote, which had been so vigorously fought for by our forefathers, if I only do the same once every four years?

Unfortunately, it seems I am not the only one in need of rescue from his negligible engagement in local races, or federal ones for the matter. In last year’s municipal election of Mayor Lori Lightfoot, only about 32 percent of registered voters — 497,000 out of 1.56 million people — cast a ballot. Up to that point, the lowest voter turnout for a city election was 33% in 2007, when Richard M. Daley captured his sixth and final term. By comparison, in this year’s primary just 28% of registered voters cast ballots, a turnout on par with presidential primaries.

Before Obama’s reassertion of legislative mechanics, which had presumably remained lost in translation since elementary school, I was under the impression that elections that decided who sat in the Oval Office took precedence over those that determined the face of our cities and states, and that the platforms of local and state hopefuls were not as readily accessible as those of presidential candidates.

While all of our obligatory hooting and hollering has not only drawn the curtain back on police brutality, but yanked it completely free from the clutches of those who are content with the status quo. And, while the idea of bringing an abrupt end to systemic oppression may be unrealistic, I understand now that the nails in its coffin cannot be driven in without our participation in local and state elections. Without mobilization to the polls, I fear we will squander the opportunity to exploit this remarkable momentum for change and, in the process, facilitate only a marginal decline in the loss of innocent black lives at the expense of complacency.

I dare to relocate to the side opposite the trifling and hypocritical peanut gallery in an effort to help transform the black lives matter movement into a nationwide principle quicker than the inevitable, but still puzzling, rebuttal of “All lives…”

Drew Stevens is a writer based in Chicago

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