Ask Carl & TJ: The Know Your Rights Edition

Writer: Mark Edwards; Editor: Kadeem Pilgrim

Local elections are taking place all over the country this November, and in just one year, a presidential election that will decide the direction of the country. So, if the collective decisions of the U.S. population are so important, we must feel our input matters greatly, right? Well, that’s not the case for everybody.  

In 2016, the black vote saw its most dramatic decline in 20 years after a record high in 2012. 19 to 30-year old’s have the lowest voter turnout among all other age groups according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The black vote is one of the most powerful in America. Publications like the Associated Press, CNN, and the Washington Post report that the black vote determines the electability of democrats. 

So, when I asked the Cross Colours founders about their theories on why young African Americans are not as enthusiastic to go to the polls, Carl and TJ aptly replied, “I don’t know, what do you think?”

Given how hard black people fought for the right to vote, and how young that generation was when they were fighting for that right, it’s difficult to see how we quickly grew apathetic towards expressing that right. Carl particularly couldn’t wrap his head around why.

“My family, your family, our ancestors struggled, sacrificed, and some gave their lives for us to have the right to vote. And for people who don’t vote… what are they thinking?” Carl said.

Well, a poll from PRRI suggests that a large portion of Americans are split on whether they believe in our electoral process. This contributes to the feeling of one’s vote not mattering. Personally, I hear other students at Hampton University express concerns about whether their vote truly matters. It was strange for me to hear considering how politically active the campus is.

In the early days of Cross Colours, Carl and TJ spearheaded voting initiatives on college campuses. They remember being received well by their younger peers. 

“We think it's important to promote ourselves as positive people. Even though the world isn't always friendly and positive and good it doesn't matter. We gotta hold our heads up and move forward. No matter what, we can't give up. We can't stop.” said Carl

So, to stress the importance of voting and to put some respect on the names of those who fought for our civil rights, it’s important to understand how voting actually matters to our political system.

People and interest groups try to suppress certain people’s votes because they matter. By limiting the voice of others, one can protect their own interests. Regardless of what party you belong to, if those who oppose your beliefs are not politically active, you have a natural political advantage. Because of this, there have been multiple attempts to suppress valuable votes.

African Americans make up over 12% of eligible voters, according to the Pew Research Center. Margins like that have the power to swing entire elections. Systems like Gerrymandering are often abused to suppress the power of these votes. This makes it all the more important to express our rights so we can be properly represented in our districts. 

Since conservatives now have a majority in the Supreme Court, our input in the political process is as important as it was during the civil rights movement. The supreme court shut down investigations into partisan gerrymandering and has rolled back regulations put in place by the Voters Rights Act of 1965

Since these rulings, old Jim Crow era voter laws began slowly returning in some states. For example, Voter ID laws in states like Alabama. Voter ID laws are marketed as a solution to a problem that does not exist. Supporters of voter ID laws will say it’s there to prevent voter fraud.  

The Brennan Center for Justice claims that ballot fraud is extraordinarily rare. So while voter ID laws don’t stop voter fraud, they do provide an unnecessary barrier that keeps eligible Americans from voting.  

Overcoming these barriers is what gives the African American community power. While these barriers can be discouraging and demoralizing, losing all hope in our electoral system and forfeiting our power as American citizens is not the way. 

“Any progress is progress. That's why we, as black people, are educated today, successful today, and entrepreneurs today. It’s because of our ancestors who cleared the way for us to be accepted in society and respected like everyone else” said Carl.

Ultimately, Americans in general often forget about their local elections. So Cross Colours encourages you to be politically active this year. 

Find out who is running, and exercise your right to vote this November!