Posted on April 1, 2020

These Young Voting Activists Are the New Black Suffragettes

Vandana Pawa, Elite Daily, March 30, 2020

Vashti Hinton was a college sophomore in 2013 when she first realized what it meant to fight for her right to vote as a young Black woman. On the first day of class, she learned about House Bill 589, aka North Carolina’s “monster” voter suppression law. The bill removed early voting in the state, eliminated voting outside of one’s precinct, and required voters to show a very specific form of identification — all restrictions that would disproportionately affect Black voters. This was the first time Hinton had heard of the bill, and it rocked her perception of her right to vote. “As Black people, we have less voting rights now than we did back in the ‘60s,” she remembers thinking at the time. Seven years later, she’s working to change that as a voting rights activist, carrying on a long legacy of Black women’s voting activism.


Hinton is now the college outreach coordinator at the nonprofit government watchdog and advocacy organization Common Cause, where she works with historically Black colleges and universities (known as HBCUs) to promote political education in communities of color. “Black and brown students aren’t usually the ones who, historically, have had access to this type of education,” Hinton explains, “and with that access comes power.” {snip} She works on campaigns like the End Gerrymandering Now initiative, which work for fair districts and voting maps.

Just as House Bill 589 — which was eventually killed by a federal court in 2016 for its discriminatory effect — would have suppressed the Black vote in North Carolina, various other states are still enacting policies that disenfranchise marginalized votersFelon disenfranchisement laws, lack of polling machinesvoter roll purges, and gerrymandering can make it difficult, and sometimes impossible, for many voters to cast their ballots. The restrictive policies often disproportionately affect communities of color.

“There is a lack of investment in the most vulnerable communities,” explains Arekia Bennett, the 27-year-old executive director of the non-profit voting rights organization Mississippi Votes. {snip}

In Mississippi, saturated in the history of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, Bennett sees the impact of the legacy of Black suffragettes and voting activists on her work every day. “Their wisdom is so accessible,” she says. “My staff is all Black women, and they always remind me of the women of our history. Annie DevineElla Baker,” she says. “We sit at the feet of our elders.”

For Alexis Campbell, an 18-year-old Youth Advisory Board member of Vote16USA, a national campaign to lower the federal voting age, pushing for change in her community is the best way to continue the legacy of fighting for Black women’s political power. “I’ve watched my peers’ — especially when they are also people of color — voices be discarded,” she says. {snip}

Black women have long been viewed as an electoral prize for Democratic politicians. In 2018, Black women voters were credited for the “Blue Wave” that gave Democrats control of the House of Representatives, and as of 2020 they are one of the most active voting blocs in the electorate. If turnout patterns follow previous years, in 2020, Black women will cast an expected 11 million votes, according to public policy think tank The Center For American Progress. “We expect a lot from Black women. People look at Black women to come and save everybody,” Hinton explains. “And we will always show up. Black women are continuing to do this work all over the country, but this is a huge weight for us to carry.” While Black women have become a valuable constituency for politicians, their support can be taken for granted by politicians who are always pursuing the white moderate vote. {snip}