Barack Obama took the stage for his farewell speech mere days after Donald Trump had been elected president of the United States in 2016. The 44th president tried his best to instill hope and faith in his followers who had been dealt a blow of fear and despair. He spoke about civil action and voicing our concerns when the government fails us. At one point, when Obama mentioned the future President Donald Trump, members of the crowd started to boo. His response was short, off-the-cuff and enlightening about the outgoing president’s ideals:
“Don’t boo, vote.”
This has been Obama’s doctrine for more than a decade, and to be fair, a go-to one-stop solution offered up mostly to minority populations as the ways to initiate change in America. This isn’t new. One of the pillars of the civil rights movement was making sure that African-Americans could secure the right to vote. An incalculable amount of men and women died for that right to cast ballots in elections. My father risked his life fighting for voting rights. I understand the vast importance of the changes that can occur in America if people have a passion for voting. But I also understand that acting like voting is the final solution to the problems poisoning America is an oversimplified dismissal of what Black people have had to endure to simply survive.
Having faith in voting is, in effect, having faith in the fairness of America’s so-called democracy. And having faith in America’s so-called democracy is an act of naïveté and self-sabotage. American politics doesn’t act on fairness. It never has, and as soon as Black people secured the right to vote, the country worked overtime to find ways to take those rights away, either by stripping that right via mass incarceration or straight-up changing rules to nullify the impacts of Black votes. In short, the war against Black voting rights never ended and the weeks and days leading up to the 2018 midterms is a testament to how much this country – namely the GOP – wants to make Black voting ineffective.
In Georgia, for instance, Republican Secretary Of State and GOP candidate for governor, Brian Kemp, has purged 53,000 names from voter registration lists – more than 70 percent of those were African-American despite the fact the state is a little more than 30 percent Black. Since 2014, the state has shut down 214 polling places, mostly in predominately Black counties. Florida is suppressing more than . A study from the Brennan Center For Justice found that New York, Virginia, North Carolina and Florida have engaged in illegal purges, while Arizona, Alabama, Maine and Indiana have put rules on the books that violate the Civil Rights Act in order to suppress votes. Officials at polling places no longer have to make potential voters ask how many bubbles are on a bar of soap anymore as policies achieving the same purpose are now baked into official laws across the country.
But what happens if we do actually get to cast a ballot on Election Day? American policy has failsafes in place to minimize the impact of Black votes. The electoral college was instituted as a compromise to give southern states heightened voting power to account for their population of slaves. That same electoral college allowed the last two Republican presidential candidates to ascend to the White House despite the fact they didn’t win the popular vote. The Senate, which allocates two votes per state, dilutes popular votes, as well., two-thirds of the Senate will represent a mere 30 percent of the U.S. population. Think about this: Due to the population differences between Alaska and California and the fact they each still get the same amount of Senate representatives, a Senate vote in Alaska is worth more than 50 times a vote in California.
Voting is a vastly important method of changing the country when we are dissatisfied with those in charge. However, the narrative around voting needs to change. Black people, for the most part, don’t pass on voting because they are lazy or complacent. Voting numbers are rarely if ever a reflection of how much Black people care. On the contrary, voting numbers are reflections of the continued effort to suppress Black people’s rights to have a say in what happens in regards to American policy. Every Black vote is a testament to perseverance and overcoming a system that doesn’t want us stepping foot in voting booths. Every missed Black vote is a reflection of the country succeeding in suppression.
When Obama admonished to “don’t boo, vote,” he was displaying the faith he has in America – the same faith that got him elected and the same faith that kept him from believing Donald Trump could be president until it was too late.
However, “just” voting isn’t enough.
Don’t boo, vote.
Don’t boo, resist.
Don’t boo, march.
Don’t boo, speak up.
Don’t boo, live.
This is how we survive in America.