Why We Vote: A Letter To My Nephew, Born The Night Trump Was Elected

"They know that when we vote, we win."

The author's nephew celebrating the 4th of July.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of his family

| November 06 2018,

7:40 pm

Nephew —

When I first wrote to you, my fingers fell against my keyboard in heavy strokes. It’d been one year since his election — your first birthday, and the anniversary of a fractured country reckoning with its proclivity for hate. I wanted each word to bear the weight of 62 million people, your fellow Americans, voting for a man whose presidency has amounted to a veritable assault on people of color. I wanted you to feel the hope of the millions more who voted against him. I wanted you to love your country even if it failed to love you back.

Most importantly, when you’re old enough to learn the story of your breaking country, I want you to remember your greatest gift: your joy. In your first two years of life, his darkness has failed to drown your laughter’s light. You are a Black boy who lives out loud. A Black boy who loves to dance and play, and show love in spite of his hate. You arrived as his perfect foil — hope for happiness in a grieving country.

But now, in the days leading up to your second birthday, my words sputter more than they stream. From the time you were born, hateful acts of violence increased to a decade-long high. In the three months following his election, 1,300 hate crimes were committed across your country. Why? Hateful words beget hateful acts. And as he nears two years in office, his hateful rhetoric has not only affirmed America’s most vicious bigots, it has animated a dangerous few who express such hatred with violence.

In recent weeks, American political life has been dominated by unprecedented terror. A legion of mail-bombs were delivered to prominent Democrats — including five of America’s most prominent Black leaders. A shooter who expressed intent to murder Black people killed two in a Kentucky grocery store. And last, a white supremacist massacred 11 Americans in a synagogue — the worst anti-semitic attack in recent U.S. history.

Each of these terrorist acts were deeply rooted in the far-right — the depraved margin of a political party who rejects their acts but nurtures their beliefs. And by accepting extremists into their ranks, the right has granted them permission to transform bigoted rhetoric into bigoted violence.

For people of color in this country — your people — such pandemic hatred is an oppressive birthright. And for Black people like us, forced to bear the cost of slavery’s evolution into everyday disenfranchisement, his policies have been particularly punishing.

In a country where Black people are disproportionately jailed and killed by police, the president has not only encouraged biased “stop and frisk” policies, he has worked to further militarize police efforts — as if readying himself for war against our communities. He’s also threatening our food and our homes. His administration's proposed legislation may make it more difficult for people to receive food-stamps and triple costs for those receiving federally subsidized housing — benefits relied on by many who look like us.

His assault on poor people and people of color is unrelenting. I am writing you because today is our chance to fight. Not unlike the day you were born, today's election stands to deliver on your country oldest promise. A promise of freedom and justice for all — not some.

Know this above all else: that promise begins with voting. As a people living in a country that once enslaved them, it is our duty to support initiatives that fairly provide rights and resources, and advocate for candidates aiming to give our people a voice. Voting is the feet on which of our people move forward. And yet in your country, where voting is a right granted not guaranteed, too many of us have been made to stand still.

Throughout the country, our people’s ability vote is in question. In Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia, laws preventing formerly incarcerated people from voting have left 1 in 5 Black people ineligible to do so. But for Florida, which also stands to elect its first Black governor, today's election may help restore voting rights to 1.4 million people including hundreds of thousands of Black people.

In North Carolina, conservatives are threatening our people’s right to vote as well. A ballot initiative has been introduced to require a photo ID when voting. In a country where 25 percent of Black people nationwide do not have a photo ID, compared to 8 percent of white voters, North Carolinians will decide today if thousands of Black people can participate in democracy.

The voter suppression evident across these states is reminiscent of that experienced by your great grandparents who survived unjust taxes and literacy tests designed to keep them from the polls. Now, more than 50 years later, more than 300,000 voters in Georgia have forcibly lost their voter registration — a tactic employed by a conservative candidate for governor to stop voters of color from electing Georgia’s first Black governor.

They will stop at nothing to quiet our voice. They know that when we vote, we win. And on the night you were born, your country’s moral fault line revealed the depths of its fissure. But Nephew, their hate cannot move the ground beneath our feet. It cannot frighten a people who've lived through greater quakes. And at a time when America seemed to slip from beneath us, you gave us the gift of gravity. You gave us a reason to vote. A reason to hold our ground — to dig our feet into our country's soil so it knows we shall not be moved.

Read more of A.T.'s writing at atmcwilliams.com, and follow him on Instagram and Twitter




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