by Ebonie Johnson Cooper, Chief Millennial Officer, Friends of Ebonie
Just a few months ago we watched the nation react to the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO by police officer Darren Wilson. Americans across the country took to social media to voice their outrage and many also took to the streets in protest, including those in Ferguson. While some of the anger was displayed through looting in Ferguson, much of it was contained in peaceful yet deliberate gatherings of solidarity. Through all of the anger, tears, questions and heartache, there was one lesson we could not ignore: Voting in your local elections matters!
One of the main reasons for such disparities in the local police department is Ferguson was a result of the lack of voter turn out in previous local elections. Ferguson is 67% black. However, not only is the mayor white, the police chief is white, 5 of the 6 city council members are also white, all the school board members are white and of the 53 commissioned police officers, 50 are white. Where is the representation of the majority? Clearly not in the community’s leadership. As reported in this August 2014 article, “This year, just 12.3 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot, according to numbers provided by the county. In 2013 and 2012, those figures were even lower: 11.7 percent and 8.9 percent respectively. As a rule, the lower the turnout, the more the electorate skews white and conservative.” While race data is not collected for municipal elections, it can be deduced based on the age and voting behaviors of Ferguson’s white residents, those who showed up were not black.
So how did this play out on a national level? It brought to light the dire need for communities – especially those just like Ferguson- across the country to show up and vote during the midterm elections!
Over the last decade or so I lived in the wonderful cultural melting pot of New York City. The issues that plagued my Crown Heights and Harlem neighborhoods mostly centered around gentrification, schools and zoning – give or take. At the time, like many 20-somethings, I’d “heard” about the local elections days but unless it was a mayoral election, I didn’t really bother to learn about the issues on the table – let alone go vote. So what happened? I have no clue. Ignorance like mine led to important community issues that impacted my neighborhood to go unaccounted for.
Fast forward ten years. You won’t keep me from the polls tomorrow. What changed? Ferguson.
As the facts of the case rose to the surface and the media and advocates highlighted how Ferguson got to be how it is, couldn’t help but think: What’s the lesson in all of this? The lesson for me was simple, we gotta vote. We see the results of not voting. Imagine our power if we do vote.
Ferguson was my example of how important my voice is at the local level. I saw in black and white what not showing up to the polls can and will do to a community. Thinking that my vote really doesn’t matter was foolish. Accepting the notion that politics are corrupt and I can’t change anything was absurd. My vote counts. Your vote counts. My voice matters. Your voice matters.
If more black people in Ferguson would have shown up to vote in the past two municipal elections, perhaps there would be more school board officials representing kids who look like their kids. If more black people showed up to vote in Ferguson, maybe there would be another city council person to truly speak for the needs of the black community. And if more black people showed up to vote in Ferguson, maybe, just maybe there would be more black officers or even a black police chief to help educate and curb the fear and aid in race relations in the town. These are all “ifs”, I don’t really know any of this for sure. But what I do know is, I’ve seen what happens when we don’t show up. I’m willing to risk what happens if I do show up. I’m willing to vote for the next city council person, governor and congress(wo)man. I’m willing to take 5 minutes and do what I have the right to do: Vote. You should too!
Find your local voting site and helpful local voting info on I Will Vote.com