#WeVote - A Millennial Conversation

#WeVote - A Millennial Conversation

 Deray McKesson, Michelle Sasha and Maggie at the #WeVote Panel Discussion, October 6, 2016, Washington, DC

Deray McKesson, Michelle Sasha and Maggie at the #WeVote Panel Discussion, October 6, 2016, Washington, DC

Thanks to a good friend, I was able to attend the #WeVote - A Millennial Conversation and Panel Discussion yesterday at Bonfire DC.  The invitation read: #WeVote has invited the DNC to join a "Millennial Conversation" on the intersection of politics and hip-hop and the critical issues facing young black people in 2016.  To say I was thrilled to attend is an understatement.  

 My diligent assistant, Maggie. Her future depends on this election. October 6, 2016, Washington, DC

My diligent assistant, Maggie. Her future depends on this election. October 6, 2016, Washington, DC

When I first arrived in Washington, DC fresh out of college, I didn't know the difference between political parties, much less what a House of Representatives or Senate was.  I was naïve enough to interview on Capitol Hill with no experience or knowledge. Needless to say, I wasn't hired. Being in Washington forced me learn as quickly as possible the things that weren't taught to me by my Jamaican family or Prep School upbringing.  Mastering talking points was what I learned to do.  Checking in with various political and news outlets on a daily even hourly basis was the way I familiarized myself with not only what was happening in the world, but also what the conversation might be about at the next dinner table or happy hour. I spent a lot of time with people on "both sides of the aisle" and often found myself conflicted with what was in my heart versus what was right in front of me.  I often was the "token black" in many situations where I had to be the voice of an entire community of Black people that had many struggles that I simply did not have.  I grew tired. And as injustices against those that looked like me seemed to only multiply, I grew weary. Like Solange says on Weary, "Be leery 'bout your place in the world/You're feeling like you're chasing the world/You're leaving not a trace in the world/But you're facing the world." 

 From left to rights: Symone Sanders, Donna Brazile, Deray McKesson, Mary Pat Hector, and Stephen Green at the #WeVote Panel Discussion at Bonfire DC

From left to rights: Symone Sanders, Donna Brazile, Deray McKesson, Mary Pat Hector, and Stephen Green at the #WeVote Panel Discussion at Bonfire DC

This sentiment is precisely why this panel discussion was more than important.  Moderated by CNN political commentator and former national press secretary for Bernie 2016, Symone D. Sanders, the featured panelists included Deray Mckesson, Protester and co-founder of Campaign Zero, Donna Brazile, Interim Chair of the Democratic National Committee, Stephen Green, National Youth Vote Director of the NAACP, and Mary Pat Hector, National Youth Director of the National Action Network.

More and more I hear young folks that feel like voting in this election cycle doesnt make sense. They are feeling like they don't want to cast their vote for the "lesser of two evils" or they don't believe that their voice matters.  Deray even said "I have voted my entire life and it didn't stop me from being tear gassed." As shocking as this sounds, it is a sad and harsh truth that black people are faced with when they choose to make their voices heard in the face of injustice.  I cannot commend Deray and the rest of the movement enough for their tireless commitment to seeking justice for the countless lives that don't seem to matter in the justice system.  

 Deray McKesson and Revolt TV at the #WeVote Millennial Conversation in Washington, DC

Deray McKesson and Revolt TV at the #WeVote Millennial Conversation in Washington, DC

But the points made by the panelists highlight the fact that marching and voting are not adequate enough to effect real change in America.  Stephen mentioned that "this is the first election in 50 years without the full protection of the Voting Rights Act" and Mary mentioned that "if we go out in numbers, that is powerful. People don't listen to people who don't vote." While the conversation began with the influence of hip-hop in today's movement—like how you can hear the pain and needs of the Black community in the music—meanwhile highlighting campaigns like the NAACP and Chance the Rapper's initiative called Stay Woke and Vote, I tend to believe that not enough is being said in the music/it is not showcased enough in national media.  That is why we can no longer rely on anyone else but ourselves to effect change, because as Stephen so eloquently noted, nothing with change "until we are able to create a new structure within the structure to really dismantle the system of oppression and racism that is strategically interwoven into the American democracy."

Here are a few of the points made that may be stepping stones toward a "plan of action" to effectuate that change that we so desperately need:

  1. "I've always believed that voting is the first step in a long process." - Donna Brazile
  2. "There are so many levels of power as citizens of this great democracy that we don't use, (social, economic, etc) and every time we refuse to use our power, we find ourselves falling behind and under siege." - Donna Brazile
  3. "Voting is one of the many ways that we can evoke power.  The landscape of hope has changed. The language has to shift to talk about voting as one of the many tools that allows us to build power.  This is a part of a larger strategy.  We lose when we talk about voting as the only way to go." - Deray McKesson
  4. "Don't wait until the day after election day to get your ideas out there." - Donna Brazile
  5. On organizing: "Harriet Tubman did not have a 501 (c)(3), and she didn't need one." -Deray McKesson
  6. "We are able to generate a new generation of elected officials that are not sort of committed to a trajectory of bridging the gap, but who are willing to create and imagine a whole new structure." - Stephen Green
  7. "If we work together in forums like this, we can truly move forward." - Mary Pat Hector
  8. "Boo, if you see somebody who's been sitting at the table for too long, you might not want to kick 'em out the chair, just bring in your folding chair and sit your ___ down. Because that is what it means to understand your power." - Donna Brazile

I will leave you with my reply to a comment on my Facebook page after I uploaded videos yesterday: If you sit out this election cycle, you don't get to complain about anything lacking in your community. You have to remember, this is more than just a presidential election: you are also responsible for electing your state and local officials that determine the trajectory of your life and your children's lives. This includes funding for schools, jobs, safe places; all of that could be in jeopardy if your voice is not made known. "People do not listen to those who do not vote." One interesting thing I heard yesterday is that jury selection is based off of registered voters in the area. Can you imagine the difference it might have made had more blacks had been registered to vote and been chosen as jurors for the Travon Martin trial? I suggest when the voter pamphlet comes in the mail, you take an hour or so of your time and research the people and the initiatives on the ballot. The first time I did this changed my outlook on the voting process overall. I am also registered as an independent.

*this is not an endorsement for any political candidate or organization