Many Americans did not expect that a Southern, ruby-red state like Georgia would become the epicenter of politics in this year’s elections. But the vote tallies in Georgia and in several other states reaffirmed the power of our democracy — and revealed what the people can accomplish when we work together.
More Americans voted in 2020 than in any other presidential election in United States history — and it’s clear that the Black electorate played a critical role in that historic turnout.
That election may be over, but our work is far from done. In fact, now is the time to build on our momentum and continue to invest and organize in our communities to work toward the just, multiracial democracy we deserve and to ensure a better future for our loved ones.
I’ve learned over decades of organizing how complex this work can be. Our political power is great — but we also face incredible challenges. Among other hurdles, one common refrain from Black men, in particular, is that they don’t vote because they believe their votes don’t matter. And when you live in a state with a history of voter suppression, it certainly can feel that way.
When I hear sentiments like this, I remind folks about our rich history of political organizing against voter suppression, which we can trace back to the Jim Crow era. And I explain that the act of voting is only part of the solution – and point out the dangers of a circle of distrust that feeds on itself. In the digital era, Black voters’ political dissatisfaction actually makes us more vulnerable to receive and spread propaganda that has been designed for one purpose: to breed political apathy, cynicism and inaction.
Targeting Black voters with disinformation on social media and digital apps is the right-wing’s latest voter suppression tactic, and it’s one that harms our communities in the long run. Like any other type of voter suppression, its goal is to minimize our voices and political power. That’s why it’s essential that we continue to build our political prowess and galvanize those among us who have become jaded about the political process.
It’s an uphill battle, but not an impossible one — and the turnout in this election demonstrates what we can accomplish when we work together within our own communities. In addition to the Black Church’s decades-long “souls to the polls” campaigns, Black sororities organized “Strolls to the Polls” this year to boost voting among young Black women, who have long been the backbone of progressive politics. And to counteract the dangerous spread of targeted disinformation campaigns, I led a text-based outreach campaign at People For the American Way Foundation to educate Black men about the coordinated effort to silence them and mobilize them to cast a ballot on Election Day.
Through the nonpartisan Defend the Black Vote project, our organizers reached more than 2.3 million voters. All told, we sent a total of 10.5 million text messages to Black voters in 25 states across the country. To double down on our outreach, we rolled out digital ads and radio public service announcements and held tele-town halls with young Black leaders and other influencers.
We pulled out all the stops to defend the Black vote in this election – and the boost in Black voter turnout in states across the country indicates how successful our collective outreach was.
And we must sustain that momentum in the months and years ahead. Whether your community’s goal is to protect voting rights, reform our unjust criminal justice system or reimagine public safety, we need to stay engaged and work together in the long term to realize those goals.
Elections give us a chance to choose leaders who can help us advance our goals, but it’s up to us to make sure they follow through with their promises.
Our ancestors fought and died for our right to the ballot. And I can only imagine how proud they would be to see what we have achieved, especially in this year’s elections. We owe it to them to make sure that our voices are never silenced, and we owe it to the generations yet to come to build an inclusive future that protects and supports all of us.
Let’s get to work.
Diallo Brooks, Senior Field Director, Field Mobilization, People For the American Way