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Making Your Voice Heard at the Ballot Box

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By Mitchell D. Brown, 2019 Equal Justice Works Fellow hosted by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. Mitchell’s Fellowship is supported by The Ottinger Foundation.

Photo of Mitchell D. Brown

What we are seeing around the country is nothing new—sadly, it is rooted in the fabric of American society. Since the founding of this country, Black people’s voices have been silenced and marginalized either by violence or by the law. Racial terror has haunted Black lives since we first set foot in this country in chains, and many Black people, including myself, have had to deal with the vestiges of racism in its explicit and/or implicit forms.

I’m proud to see what is happening in this moment, specifically seeing the young people rise up and let their voices be heard. As a former teacher, I sought to instill in my students that they have a voice and that they should feel empowered to express their voices. That same intent is present in my current work as a voting rights attorney, where each day I fight for the rights of people to let their voices be heard in our democratic society. I fight for the voices of the disabled, the disenfranchised, and the disparaged to be elevated through the ballot box. My work is dedicated to the racial justice warriors who have come before me, the racial justice warriors who work beside me, and the racial justice warriors to come. But, until America is willing to reckon with its original sin, slavery, we will have to do the same work time and time again. Without this country’s acknowledgement of the ugly truth of racism, there cannot be reconciliation.

The work of racial justice is difficult work, but it is rewarding work because I know that I am fighting for a purpose. I think the biggest tool that I often use is talking with others who are doing the work of racial justice and voting rights, and gaining their perspective regarding how to frame and execute our work. We are in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, while also in the middle of an epidemic called racism. What we are seeing in the voting rights context is that many states are creating situations in which people have to choose between their health and their right to vote. This is exacerbated in Black communities where Black people are disproportionately affected by COVID-19, but also are disproportionately the target of voter suppression tactics that have abounded for years. This situation can lead to the virtual disenfranchisement of large swaths of Black communities in many states. Yet, what I am seeing, and what I believe, is that Black people are strong, resilient, and perseverant. We will fight to make our voices be heard. We have survived slavery, Jim Crow, mass incarceration, and myriad issues that had, and still have as its target, Black bodies. We will survive this as well; it is just sad that it has cost so many Black bodies along this journey of grappling with the scourge of racism in our society.

My final words are this: the Black Lives Matter movement should not become stagnant. We must keep the pressure on those who tell us that our lives do not matter. However, Black people cannot do it alone; we are tired of fighting the same battles day in and day out without any acknowledgement of our humanity. It is time for our society to come to its senses, fight alongside Black people, and realize that our country is in grave danger because we fail to recognize the humanity of our Black neighbors. We must come together and keep protesting, keep voting, keep educating and advocating, and keep pushing this movement forward, “for a people united shall never be defeated!”

To learn more about Mitchell D. Brown’s Equal Justice Works Fellowship, visit his Fellow profile.

Learn more about becoming an Equal Justice Works Fellow