“Do people who you know down there care about voting?” I asked my best friend Sharhena, who lives in Alabama. I already knew the answer, but a part of me hoped it would be different this time, given this year’s monumental events.
“Some don’t care. A lot aren’t even registered,” she responded, indifferently.
Before I moved to California in 2012, I lived in Alabama - the heart of the South - for more than half of my life. I was surrounded by my people and my culture, in a college town nearby the University of Alabama. It was my comfort zone, my bubble. I didn’t know, nor care to know, about worldly problems and the importance of being in conversations around legislation and who runs the country. Ignorance was… well, you know the rest.
In the South, I grew up to learn the popular Black public opinion surrounding politics and government. I always heard the same phrases from my peers and my elders: “Our vote don’t count” or “It don’t matter. The government don’t care ‘bout us.”
I was too young to understand what they meant back then. Now, being a 20-something Beach graduate, I understand exactly what they meant. Or mean, for that matter. Because unfortunately, like my best friend confirmed, it still doesn’t matter to a lot of people.
I remember turning 18 after high school and you’ll never guess what I was excited about finally being able to do.
I was looking forward to hitting the nightclubs.
I know what you were thinking.
And once again, I still wasn’t interested in participating in choosing the nation’s leaders. I mean sure, I was pretty hyped about Barack Obama - a Black Harvard Law School graduate and Illinois senator - becoming president for a second term. He was the change we needed right? He was a small step in the right direction for a country that has plagued Black people for centuries.
My people showed up and showed out for him both times. According to the Pew Research Center, the 2012 turnout of Black voters exceeded white voters for the first time in history: 66.6% of eligible Black voters turned out to help reelect Obama.
I remember walking from my fast-food job to my assigned poll center on Nov. 8, 2016. I smelled like french fries and overcooked chicken nuggets, but I was determined to make it to the poll center before it closed, and I only had two hours left. After a brisk walk, I made it there and stood in line. The poll workers smiled at me, checked my name off the list, handed me a ballot, and sent me to a corner where there were tables with dividers and ballot markers. I walked out of the poll center after casting my first ever ballot, feeling as if my one vote would change the world.
Fast forward to now, just weeks before the 2020 election and I will VOTE.
According to U.S. Census data analyzed by the Brookings Institution, young folks hold significant political power if registered to vote. They comprise about 37% of eligible voters, but always show up at the polls in low rates. That means this year’s election gives us, especially college-aged people, the potential to be the largest voting population.
There are so many historically marginalized groups in this country who have gone through hell and high water just to be able to cast that sheet of paper called a ballot. A lot of people struggled, suffered and fought their whole lives just for all citizens to be part of the democratic process. Rest in peace to the amazing individuals we lost this year, Rep. John Lewis, Rep. Elijah Cummings and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Let it not be in vain. Use your chance to strengthen this nation’s democracy. You can decide who runs this country and your state, for that matter!
This election affects you in one way or another. Let’s be real - we’re talking LGBTQIA+ rights, women’s rights, healthcare, immigration, police reform, student loan debt, the cannabis industry and so much more. I’m sure at least one of the things has something to do with you, directly or indirectly.
Voting in the presidential elections also includes voting on different state propositions. You know those people who were on campus asking if you’re registered to vote and chased you down to sign a clipboard? Yeah, those are propositions. Another chance for you to make decisions on what happens in your state.
We must realize that we still have the power to choose our leaders, push them to meet our demands and keep the promises they made during their campaigns.
My family and I made a date for Nov. 3rd to put on our masks and hit the poll center.
The last day to register to vote online or by mail is today, Oct. 19.
And if all else fails, you can register and vote at your county elections office, polling place, or vote center on Election Day, Nov 3. Awesome news for my last-minute peeps.
You gotta vote. The future of this country depends on it.
CSULB grad Autumn Lewis received her Bachelor of Arts degree in public relations in 2020.
Beach Voices is an occasional feature that allows members of the Beach community – students, faculty, staff and alumni – to share their personal experiences. If you’d like to be considered, send submissions labeled “Beach Voices” to StratComm@csulb.edu.