This article first appeared in The Root on October 22, 2016.
If you’re Black, enfranchised and under 35, you’ve probably caught hell from at least a dozen people about your civic duty to vote. (Something about your ancestors bleeding and dying for your right to vote, and how folks your age should be galloping to the polls. It’s like your civic duty to stand for the American flag, remember?) Barack Obama himself chastised Black America last month—apparently, it’s up to us to save the United States. What a time to be alive. And by this, of course, I mean what a privilege to be Black and breathing in this country in 2016.
Lots of media outlets, celebrities and grandmas are talking at Black youth about how we need to turn out in November—and they’re all talking about one election. Discourse around voting in the United States has devolved into millennial-shaming and fear-mongering about two polarizing presidential candidates and their dogged bids for the Oval Office.
Is voting important? Hell yes. Which is also why Black millennials can’t afford to misplace its importance. November 8th is about so much more than the Oval Office—it’s about the range of issues that can be impacted by our votes down the ballot, on the state and local level. If you’re not careful, Donald and Hillary will distract you from this.
Black people built this country. Our bodies fertilized this political experiment. And we still don’t have basic freedoms and protections that belong to us. 5-year-old Kodi Gaines’ mother was murdered in front of him in August. Officer “Slam” walks free in South Carolina. Wisconsin, Ohio, Texas and North Carolina refuse to restore voting rights to disenfranchised Black citizens. Black immigrants are being detained and deported at higher rates than any of their counterparts. States continue to prioritize corrections spending over classroom spending, and Black children are suffering the most as a result. Flint still doesn’t have clean water.
This isn’t about politics, this is about justice and freedom. On Thursday, a coalition of Black millennials and Black millennial organizations launched #WeBuiltThis — a campaign committed to using the ballot box as a weapon in the fight for Black liberation. The partners involved with #WeBuiltThis include BYP100, Color of Change, Advancement Project and Race Forward, among others. Our coalition is motivated by two key facts.
Fact #1: Black people built America.
Fact #2: America is killing Black people.
In 1964, Malcolm X told a mostly white audience in New York City: “We built this house that you’re living in. It was our labor that built this house. You sat beneath the old cotton tree telling us how long to work or how hard to work, but it was our labor, our sweat and our blood that made this country what it is, and we’re the only ones who haven’t benefitted from it. All we’re saying today is, it’s payday.”
Black folks have risen up against state violence in Charlotte and Baton Rouge and Ferguson and Memphis and Chicago and Baltimore. We have shut down highways and courthouses from coast to coast. We’ve sat in on school board meetings, disrupted classical music concerts, marched on police precincts and interrupted speeches. We’re not for the right, we’re not for the left—we’re for the bottom and we’re coming for the top. Mayors, governors, district attorneys and other elected officials are waging assault on Black folks by poisoning our communities, covering for killer cops, suppressing our right to vote and over-policing our children in public schools. On November 8th, it’s payday.
We built this country, and we will have justice.
Join #WeBuiltThis in the fight for Black liberation. Sign the pledge to vote and hold problematic politicians accountable at the state and local levels. We will build until we obtain the freedom that belongs to us.