BY FREDERICA WILSON OCTOBER 31, 2020
It’s a question that has been asked during every presidential election year since candidate Ronald Reagan first uttered those words at a 1980 debate.
But 2020 is no ordinary election year. With more than 200,000 dead from COVID-19 and 8.2 million who tested positive; thousands of businesses shuttered, leaving millions of people unemployed; and the threat of food insecurity and/or eviction that households face across the nation, we’re all asking ourselves whether we are better off today than we were just eight months ago. For far too many, the answer is a resounding No.
Americans, and African Americans in particular, viewed the nation’s political system with a cynical eye long before the coronavirus upended everyone’s lives and a months-long season of racial injustice and unrest. Some have actually debated whether it would be worth it to cast a ballot in the upcoming election. Will their votes even be counted, they wonder, a fear that President Trump and his right-wing supporters frequently stoke.
But this year, it is more important than ever for every eligible voter to cast their ballots this fall. The cascading effects of Trump’s chaotic administration, blatant racism, take-from-the-poor-to-give-to-the-rich (including himself) economics, deadly irresponsible handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and his daily pack of lies are just a few of the reasons why everyone who can, must vote.
Four years ago, Trump asked Black Americans, “What the hell do you have to lose?” if they supported his candidacy. The answer is clear: a hell of a lot.
Throughout his time in the White House, Trump has repeatedly attempted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which guarantees access to health insurance for Black Americans in Florida — and so many others — many of whom struggle with pre-existing conditions such as hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, asthma and obesity and, therefore, need the protections offered by the ACA . His Justice Department has failed to protect the voting rights of minority groups and abdicated its oversight of police misconduct. He appointed an education secretary who, at every opportunity, has undermined or rolled back key civil-rights protections and Obama-era guidance aimed at promoting racial equity in the classroom. His budget proposals regularly target safety-net programs that minority and low-income communities depend on and his administration has rolled back environmental protections that also harm those communities.
Trump’s postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, tried to sabotage the postal system to disenfranchise and deter people from voting by mail. As with most elections, there will be efforts to intimidate voters at the polls and to deter them from casting ballots in person or by mail. Voters have received threatening emails warning them to vote for Trump, “or we will come after you.” A uniformed police officer wore a pro-Trump mask while on duty and casting his own ballot. Civil-rights groups fear that unlawful para-militia organizations will try to scare people at polling sites. Trump continues to disparage voting by mail, though that is how he regularly votes.
Don’t let them get to you. Trump won Florida in 2016 by 113,000 votes. In Miami, 379.000 Black voters stayed at home on Election Day. Don’t stay at home in 2020. Vote, there still is time to drop off your ballot at an early-voting site.. If someone tries to intimidate you, call 911 or 1-866-OUR-VOTE.
When African Americans don’t vote, they disenfranchise themselves and dishonor the legacy of civil-rights heroes like my beloved late colleague, Congressman John Lewis, with whom I fought alongside as a students at Fisk for the right to vote. They put their lives on the line — literally — so that everyone can exercise this precious right.
In his final words, Lewis described the vote as “the most powerful nonviolent change agent” available to us and warned that it must not be taken for granted. Some may argue that African Americans have for decades felt like the nation’s major political parties, at best, have taken them for granted and, at worst, ignored them completely. There is some truth to that, but by silencing our electoral voices, we only hurt ourselves and our communities.
We must vote for the change we want to see. To quote Florida Rights Restoration Coalition president Desmond Meade, an FIU Law School graduate who is in a battle to sit for the state bar, “When we vote, amazing things can happen.”
Rep. Frederica Wilson represents Florida 24th congressional district, in Miami, in the U.S. House.