As hundreds gathered on the Capitol lawn June 29 for the Black Lives Matter rally, setting up tables and chairs, tents and cool-down stations, microphones and speakers, one group spread out pins and flyers on their table.
The white pins glistened in the 90-plus degree sunlight, reflecting stripes of light into any passerby’s eyes, demanding attention, demanding people to notice the words on it and the detail behind them.
The “B” was sharp and well-rounded. The intention behind this was to display the intent and mindset of their campaign.
The “L” represented where they were at currently: reaching for greater heights, stretching the impossible and pulling for greater representation in the polls. It represented the main goal of their initiative.
Next comes the “AC” and above it is a rainbow slope, angled upward, representing how the group will “push the needle forward in 2020.” The accent colors of the rainbow in the pin represent the inclusiveness of the initiative. It’s a reminder that this campaign serves all communities and that it includes many colors.
The “K” has arm-like fixtures pointed down, representing the helping hand they offer to lift others up “because one equality reaches all of us.”
The last addition to the pin is the word “vote” and check marks surrounding it. Their design, as the rest, is very intentional.
“The word ‘vote’ is italicized giving movement to the design, as the word gives movement to the cause,” community organizer Florence Alexander said. “Lastly the check mark is a literal interpretation of us filling the squares or circles to choose the candidate of our choice because that is our right as equals in the United States of America.”
All together, the pin spells “Black the Vote,” an organization whose mission is to make sure, as Black Lives Matter Lansing’s founder Angela Waters Austin said, “We have the Blackest November ever.” Like the design of their pin, their mission is as specific.
“To create Black The Vote, community organized and bring together babies to elders to inform policy and build political power in our communities is everything,” Alexander said. “To fight against voter suppression, incarceration, prisons, defunding the police … To honor the past movements before us that live in us, cause (they) never left.”
Black the Vote’s purpose is revolution in the form of policy and political power. The organization wants to carry the Black Lives Matter movement beyond the protests by dismantling the systems they have seen fail them time after time and demanding a seat at the tables where decisions are being made about their daily lives.
Helping their community, aiding those who have been silenced or silenced themselves and making members realize their voice counts is how Black the Vote operates. Beyond the polls, they want to build a strong community of action, one that secures a future brighter than the present.
“In addition to Black lives mattering, we have to also acknowledge that Black voices count,” community organizer Ragine Head said. “We have to do more than to just show up at the polls and show up at the protests, more than just make a status … This is more than a moment, this is a movement. We need all hands on deck. We need to let our youth know, to let our future know, that this world is theirs. That these policies will affect their futures and they have the power and ability to do the type of change, to bring about the type of vision we need in order to get to where we are trying to go.”
Prior to Black the Vote taking the Capitol steps to speak, Jackson, Michigan native Hakim Crampton echoed Black Lives Matter’s push for action. Crampton labeled the system a "fallen democracy" and declared this the generation to change that.
“(You are here) to not only protest, to not only make a demand, but to begin the process of action,” Crampton said. “To dismantle the structures, the systems, that sustain and maintain the desecration of the value of humanity … Injustice has occurred and it must be redressed and it looks like you are the generation that has stood up to answer the call to redress the challenges of today’s greatest hypocrisy, today’s greatest fallen democracy.”
Alexander and Head, members of the younger generation, made sure those listening knew that they had the power to make the changes they desired. They added on to the claims of broken systems with ways to fix it, starting with realizing they are the ones that empower those in charge.
“We’ve all been hurt by this system. We’ve all lost someone in the midst of what we call policing," Head said. "Policing our communities with people who aren’t even from our community. We invest in the system that does not care for us. We invest in the system that targets young men. We invest in the system that have no worry and no care for the elderly, who are left alone in these times of need. We invest in the system where we have elected officials who think it’s OK to continue to collect a paycheck, yet pay no regard to the issues that we care about, as those who are the ones that vote them in those positions. We are the ones who have that power. They would have no position if it was not for us."
"So, it is time for us to demand that the power be reinvested in that of the people," Head said. "We demand that we are taking back those seats at those tables where decisions are being made about our everyday lives, but our voices are not in that room. We are here to say 'now is the time.'"
Alexander and Head delivered speeches during the Black Lives Matter rally, where they gave their mission statement and urged those present to take action in any way they can.
Alexander compelled voters to get to the polls, and Head emphasized the necessity of participating in the census, as both will help emancipate them from the system they are taking a stance against. Black the Vote called to action those present to make the change and enforce the reform they want to see.
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“We count, we matter and we need you all as our community members, as our leaders to show up for us in those voices and those places that we are not yet able to get into,” Head said. “That’s starting with policy, that’s starting with voting, that’s starting with responding to the census to get community benefits … We can’t blame anyone for not wanting to participate in a system that does not acknowledge their existence, but we must continue to do the work and call out on those who are not allowing others to come up, who are not reaching back. We are calling out the gatekeepers, those who are making those decisions every day. It is your responsibility, and we are holding you accountable.”
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