A recent discussion on the importance of voting in the Nov. 8 general election morphed into a contentious discourse on why some young adults are skeptical about the political process.
A community forum “Ready! Set! Vote!” was held Oct.29 at the Metropolitan AME Church in the District before an audience of 80. Maureen Bunyan, a news anchor at WJLA-Channel 7 and Paul Holston, the editor-in-chief at The Hilltop co-moderated the forum that focused on the importance of voting.
However, it was Colby King, a Pulitzer-Prize winning columnist with the Washington Post that set the stage for the event, when Bunyan asked him to explain what the gutting of Section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act by the U.S. Supreme Court meant to Blacks. To do that, King reached back into history.
“I would have to say that this is the most consequential presidential election for Blacks since 1876,” King said, referring to the political compromise between Democrat Samuel Tilden and Republican Rutherford B. Hayes that ended Reconstruction in the South that year. “The Tilden-Hayes compromise was cut in a hotel owned by a Black man, James Wormley, ironically.”
King said that the 1876 election set off events that managed to disenfranchise Black in many parts of the country within 20 years. He said the evisceration of the Voting Rights Act would have the same effect.
“The Shelby County vs. Holder decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 said that there is no need for a federal presence to protect people’s right to vote,” he said. “Within a year of that decision by the court, 12 states enacted laws that restricted voting.”
Bunyan noted that a White-oriented organization, the Oath Keepers, have pledged to be citizen observers in voting precincts that tend to have minority voters. “They say they don’t intend to intimidate voters and poll workers but their presence will be a form of intimidation,” she said.
Keneshia Grant, a political scientist at Howard University, agreed with King and Bunyan that political participation is important. “If I don’t participate things can absolutely go backwards,” she said. “Legislation that is designed to help us can be changed.”
Grant noted that the period after Reconstruction is known in some academic circles as “Redemption” in that Whites asserted themselves on behalf of their own racial interests without regards to how that affected Blacks. “They want a ‘Redemption’ after the Obama era,” Grant said.
The forum took a sharp turn when the Rev. Lyndia Grant came to speak. Grant, who has a radio program and is a columnist with a District weekly newspaper, said many Americans are voting early out of a concern that Election Day could be unsettling. “Many of the baby boomers are voting early, they don’t want to be out there on Election Day,” Lyndia Grant said. “While most of my children will vote for Hillary Clinton, my youngest son, a millennial, doesn’t want to vote for either her or Donald Trump. I have tried to help him understand why it is important to vote.”
Demographers point out that the 2016 election will be the first where Baby Boomers could be outvoted by the millennial generation, Americans born from 1980-2000.
Claire Crawford, a graduate student at George Washington University, explained millennial reluctance to vote saying, “Voting is not at the top of the list. I did mail my absentee ballot to Georgia. As far as the history of Black people voting, I wasn’t there and I just read about it.”
King expressed displeasure regarding some millennials attitude toward voting. “We [in the older generations] have failed as teachers,” he said somberly. “We have not stressed the importance of voting to our young people.”
Nadeeya Harrison, a student at School Without Walls, was a panelist and offered a reason why some young people seem politically apathetic. “There are no civics classes that are being offered in high school,” Nadeeya said. “Plus, I think some of my peers understand the importance of voting but don’t see anything happening as a result of voting.”
Bunyan closed the program on a note of urgency. “It is important that you vote because when you vote, you can hold politicians to their promises,” she said. “It is important for you in the audience to carry this message everywhere you go.”
On Oct. 31, Black Women for Positive Change announced their endorsement of Clinton for president.