By Karsonya Wise Whitehead
Unlike 71 million Americans across this country, I voted against Donald Trump and against authoritarianism, fascism, xenophobia and bigotry. When I voted, I did it to take a stand against hatred, White supremacy and racism. Now to be clear, I have always intentionally voted for a candidate and not necessarily against one. In 2016, I voted for Hilary Rodham Clinton. In 2008 and 2012, I voted for Barack Obama. I did not even consider anyone else’s platform because I was working for my candidate. The 2020 election season has been very different, filled with stress and tension, and shaped by anxiety and fear, not just in the United States but worldwide. The presidency of Trump has forced us to move from being mere observers of the political process to working to actively shape it. We no longer just vote for a candidate. We now vote against one. My vote was a repudiation of Trump and it felt good to get that vote, that single solitary act of resistance and defiance, off of my chest. And even though I grew up voting, I felt the need to cry and celebrate after I dropped off my ballot.
Growing up, my father used to take me with him on Election Day and talk to me about the people in our family who fought so that he (and one day, I) could vote. He would tell me stories about how Dr. King believed that our vote could transform America and how Malcolm X argued that changing this country would come down to the ballot or the bullet.
Voting, he would say, was one of the few weapons we have to bring about change in this country, and I must wield my weapon responsibly. I thought about that when I ran for office in sixth grade. I wanted to be a crossing guard, and in my school, that was an elite elected position. My campaign slogan was “Vote for Someone You Trust to Do a Job that You Need.” I think I was more excited about the campaign than the job. It was an enormous responsibility, and when I complained, my father reminded me that I worked for people and I put their needs before my own. I never forgot that lesson and I think about it every time I vote. I cast my ballot for someone I trust to do a job that I need. I have rejoiced when my candidate won and doubled down on my work when they lost. I did not take it personally. I just committed myself to work harder the next time. 2016 was different. I took Trump’s victory as a moral affront to me and everybody in this country who believed in freedom and justice.
Before Trump’s election, I used to get a little annoyed when I talked to people who did not vote, who took the process and democracy for granted. After Trump, I got angry, and I believe that people around the country got angry with me. In America, we typically have low voter turnout and engagement with a few exceptions. In 2008, for example, according to the Pew Research Center, the levels of participation by eligible voters of color, particularly Black women and younger voters, dramatically increased.
It was a record year, not only because Black women, for the first time, had the highest voter turnout rate, but also, because for the first time since 1968, voter turnout was 61.6%. Unfortunately, it started falling again, and by 2016, voter turnout was 55.7%. To put that in context, America ranked 30th out of 35 nations for voter turnout. Trump changed all of that as people quickly realized that democracy is fragile and that our society works because of accepted social norms and not just the rule of law.
We always assumed that candidates would release their tax statements, until Trump did not. We assumed that presidents brought the country together until Trump did not. We assumed that if there were a global outbreak, our president would work to keep us safe, until Trump did not. We never thought our president would take a blind eye to democracy, humanity, civility and personal financial gain, until Trump did.
Trump, by many accounts, was an evil president, but I believe he was a necessary evil. He woke people up. Over the past four years, people of all ages have been more politically engaged, and we have witnessed more women and people of color get elected to office. And even though the Democratic Party ultimately selected Joe Biden to run for president, it was an incredibly diverse field of qualified candidates, and he chose a woman of color, Kamala Harris, as his running mate.
We have learned the hard way that elections have consequences, and that when we vote, there is more on the ballot than just who will be our next president. We are voting for the heart and soul of our nation. My Nana told me that when she voted, she was doing it for us, the children of her children. This year, when I voted against Trump, I did the same.
Karsonya Wise Whitehead (firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @kayewhitehead) is an associate professor of African and African American studies at Loyola University Maryland. She is the Founding Director of The Karson Institute for Race, Peace, and Social Justice and the award-winning host of “Today With Dr. Kaye” on WEAA 88.9 FM. She lives in Baltimore City with her husband and their two sons. Her book, Letters to My Black Sons: Raising Boys in a Post-Racial America, was just re-released.
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