By Andrea L. Zopp
Election Day is less than a week away. The Urban League’s national Occupy the Vote initiative has had an impact on voter registrations. We’ve had a steady influx of people registering and re-registering at the Chicago Urban League in recent weeks. Community engagement is up. Our debate parties, which were open to the public, were packed. Some of our guests stuck around to take part in lively exchanges about important issues nationally and locally. I have no doubt that these engaged citizens will be at the polls for early voting going on now through November 3 or on November 6th.
I believe they will be joined by the throngs of registered Black voters in Illinois and across the country. These are the “likely” voters that pundits and polls seem to forget about when they say Blacks aren’t engaged or enthusiastic about this election. If you ask me, it doesn’t feel like we’re being counted, because they don’t expect us to show up.
Prove them wrong.
Don’t be swayed by distractions such as polls. The only poll that counts is the voter turnout poll, and making sure you’re in that number. Media coverage of election season involves a great deal of sport. The strike outs, the fumbles, the home runs and the occasional slam dunks get covered. Substance, sometimes, gets lost in the sound bites. There’s also a tendency to attribute the thoughts and actions of a few to an entire group. That’s not new to people of color.
A fair and accurate portrayal of Black voters in the mainstream is lacking. What I’ve seen and heard is contrary to the way we’ve been described in this election – as disengaged, unlikely voters. Black voter turnout has always been highest in national elections. When record numbers showed up to the polls in 2008, some said it was only to be a part of history, to elect a Black president. Well, nothing has changed.
Every time you cast your vote it is historic. The African American community values the vote. We’ve fought for the vote in the past and again this year with attempts to suppress the vote in some states.
I disagree with anyone who says that large numbers of Black voters are “unlikely” to participate in this election. In fact, the assumption that Blacks don’t care about the electoral process borders on offensive. We know what’s at stake: Our children’s education, healthcare reform, the middle class, and the U.S. Supreme Court. The next president of the United States will make appointments that could influence the court’s sway for the next quarter-century. The Black community cares, alright. We understand what our parents and grandparents fought for, and we understand the critical importance of exercising the right to vote.
There are some who question what the president has done specifically for Black people to dissuade voters. Don’t take the bait. During the debates, some of the most heated exchanges were around jobs, taxation, equal pay for women and bolstering middle class families. All of these are issues that impact Black people.
While I’m busting myths, here’s another one: Illinois isn’t a swing state so your vote doesn’t matter. It matters. Your intentions won’t be recorded; only your actions. Black voters need to get to the polls so their voices are heard on local issues, too. Voters will be selecting judges and representatives of key county offices and boards.
During this early voting period and on Election Day, check on older and indigent family members and neighbors to make sure they have a way to get to the polls. Registered voters can apply for a mail-in ballot up to five days before the election.
Don’t let your friends shirk their responsibility, either. If you know people who say they aren’t going to vote, inspire them by sending them the link to a You Tube video of a 93-year-old man dying from cancer casting his last vote ever from his hospital bed. If he can vote, what’s their excuse?
Not registered, you say? Well, no problem. It’s not too late. In Cook County, the grace period to register to participate in the November 6 election has been extended until November 3rd. Some restrictions apply. Visit www.cookcountyclerk.com for more information.
Remember, voting is a right and a privilege that our ancestors fought and died for and that many people around the globe today are still fighting and dying for. Don’t waste your chance to be heard. Go vote!
Andrea L. Zopp is President and CEO of the Chicago Urban League.