On Tuesday, November 3, 2020, the most critical election of our lifetime will take place, and we must vote. This year, our lives and livelihoods are at stake, as our entire nation has been under a cloud of an administration led by a racist and his minions who have ignored the cries for liberation from the lips, lives, and hearts of the oppressed citizens of this country. This President has appointed his friends and associates into leadership roles that benefit him rather than this nation’s people.
And here we are today – The 2016 presidential election birthed a president who continues, four years later, to lead this country with no regard for black and brown lives, or the lives of people living on the brink of despair and who prides himself on supporting white supremacy and racist proclivities, and waging personal wars against anyone or anything that does not support his agenda. We have been given an opportunity to right the wrong of the 2016 election and vote for a president who understands the responsibility of the Office and vote for a president who will make the right appointments of men and women who are of the people, by the people, and for the people.
Recently, I talked with Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, Senior Pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ on Chicago’s south side, who provided insight as to the importance of this year’s election and the church’s work to ensure people are educated about voting, are registered to vote, and that they are intentional about voting in this election. Dr. Moss shared the story about his grandfather, who, despite his intentions, never had an opportunity to vote. His story provides a small glimpse of our ancestors’ experiences in their efforts to vote and the importance of our vote this year.
The Audacity to Vote
“What gives you the audacity to vote?” Pastor Moss shared, “I was raised in a household where voting was considered a sacred right that our ancestors fought and died for. My grandfather, Otis Moss, Sr., never had the opportunity to vote as he was denied the opportunity because of poll taxes and voter suppression. My dad, Rev. Otis Moss, Jr., tells the story of his dad, a single father (his wife died from an infection and due to racism – because there was no doctor available to treat her, leaving him with three children to raise), a sharecropper, and metal smelter, who vowed to vote against Gov. Herman Talmadge, a racist who never called Black people Negro or Colored, but rather used the “n” word in his speeches and asserted that he would keep “these people” in their place. My grandfather wanted nothing more than to cast his vote for this immoral and unethical person who was on the wrong side of history and decided to walk the nine miles to the courthouse to vote. However, when he arrived at the courthouse, he was told he was at the wrong polling place, and they sent him to another polling place that was 7 miles away. Again, he was told he was in the wrong place and was sent to another polling place that was also another 7 miles away from the last location. Once he arrived, a white man slammed it in his face, looks through the window, and told this 58-year-old man, “Boy, if you had been here 5 minutes earlier, you could have voted…”
This Black man was determined to vote; however, after being sent from place to place and the polls closing, he didn’t vote. My grandfather walked 20-plus miles to vote and was turned away, only to return home that night to his children waiting on the front porch of their 3-room home, and they asked, “Poppa, did you vote?” he replied, “Not this year, but I will next time… when you have the opportunity – I expect you to vote…” Since then, every one of his children has NEVER missed an opportunity to vote, and today, our families honor my grandfather with our votes during each election.”
Faith-Based Organizations Grass Roots Efforts
The story shared above is but one of many stories that fuel the fire of grassroots efforts to get people to the voting polls – our ancestors’ experiences. The Black Church PAC is a strategic initiative that includes prominent faith leaders from across the nation to reclaim political power. Some of the Black Church PAC’s founding members include Rev. Michael McBride, Rev. Leah Daughtry, Rev. Moss, Rev. Traci Blackmon, Bishop Noel Jones, Bishop Frank Reid III, and Dr. Iva Carruthers. Unashamed Media Group and the Illinois Coalition of Faith Leaders for Voting Rights have also partnered with The Black Church PAC to elect leaders committed to ending mass incarceration, defending the right to vote, curbing gun violence, and representing the equitable treatment of black and brown communities.
The Black Church PAC is particularly interested in battleground/swing states, states where a candidate doesn’t have overwhelming support, and any candidate with a strong opportunity to win an election. These states include South Carolina, which has over 250,000 unregistered Black voters and where a significant number of millennials are involved in voter education. The Black Church PAC has funded resources and encouraged battleground state voters to get the vote out in their communities.
The millennial vote is essential in this year’s election. Dr. Moss shared that if there is an increase among Black millennials voting, the current President may not get reelected, and millennial voters can determine governor and senate races throughout the south. Besides, he stated that we cannot forget the voter suppression that took place during the 2017 election in Georgia, where over 500,000 registered voters were removed from the voter rolls, making this the largest voter purge in U.S. history. (Stacy Abrams lost this election by less than 100,000 votes).
All Votes Count
We have heard, too many times, young organizers exclaiming that they do not vote – because their vote doesn’t matter, etc. As for organizers on the street who exclaim, “I protest, I don’t vote,” Pastor Moss reminds me that when these words are spoken, you cannot leverage. You are therefore fighting against yourself – you’re fighting for change (in the street), but no voting means you’ve given the power to others who mean to harm those you’re trying to protect. “If politicians know you do not vote, they will always listen to those who are giving them money and supporting their elections over people who may be loud but are not voting. Join the group called “sell out” – the group that supports your own oppression,” says Pastor Moss.
As we head to the polls, Dr. Moss shared that during this year’s election, in the first three years, the next President and administration will have an opportunity to appoint 78 judges to the federal bench. Within 4 years, there is a possibility of filling 125 vacancies on the federal bench to determine voting law issues such as mass incarceration, education, climate change, and immigration. We need qualified, fair leaders who are not beholding to one political party.
As you head to the polls, whether by mail, early voting, or the polls on election day, consider the importance of why you need to vote. For example, if you want to see police officers who operate with impunity to stand trial, you cannot stand on the sidelines – you have to vote! Vote to ensure everyone is afforded fair representation opportunities at all levels – from the House of Representatives to the Senate, to the Supreme Court and the President of the U.S.
For information on the Black Church PAC, visit www.blackchurchpac.org.
Follow Dr. Otis Moss III on Twitter, @om3, and Facebook, Otis Moss III.
Donna Hammond is a freelance writer and seminarian living in Chicago.