Opinions are the writer’s own and not those of Blavity’s.
The balance of power in America is in flux. We see it all around us: from the record turnout of African Americans and other historically marginalized voters in the 2020 elections to the wave of voter suppression laws, unquestionably aimed at impeding the influence of Black voters, that state-level lawmakers are passing across the U.S. in response.
The takeaway for Black voters should be just as apparent: waiting another four years for general elections in order to reassert our voices at the ballot box is not an option.
In the U.S., power doesn’t just play out in national elections. Local elections are already underway in jurisdictions across the country, with 21 counties and 69 cities having races in 2021. The outcome of these municipal races will ultimately determine everything from school district mask mandates — during a continuing pandemic that has disproportionately devastated Black Americans and is sickening growing numbers of children — to community development plans and the funding of police departments.
The officials who are elected during these local races hold critical roles in our communities, and the decisions they make in office directly impact our lives. Up for vote this year are mayoral positions; seats on school boards, where policies like free-lunch for children from low-income families are decided; city council seats; civil and municipal court judgeships; and other critical roles such as sheriff, comptroller (the manager of a city’s finances) and even lesser-known but no less important elected offices like the Flood Control Authority Board in Bernalillo County, New Mexico, and the coroner of New Orleans.
Communities of color now have a crucial opportunity to elect people who will answer to us and serve our needs in these essential positions. To do so, however, we must turn out for local elections with the same passion and in the same numbers that we typically show up for midterms and general elections.
Of course, there are barriers to this — not the least of which is access to the information about local elections that voters need to show up and do their part, as well as the increasingly restrictive measures against voting access that continue to be imposed on the state level. The NAACP Legal Defense Force is fighting both: we’ve filed suit against the recently passed laws in Texas and Florida that target voting rights, we’re leading advocacy in Washington D.C. to secure urgently-needed federal protections for voters and we’ve put together helpful resources so you can prepare to vote in the elections in your jurisdiction.
Now, it’s up to all of us to be armed with the knowledge and conviction necessary to defend our democracy. And make no mistake about it: America’s fragile democracy is in urgent peril.
Along with the ongoing attacks on Black people’s ability to vote fairly and have those votes counted, the catastrophic risk of ceding power to unqualified — and frankly, dangerous — people has been made chillingly clear in the past few weeks, as videos of school board meetings overtaken by belligerent conspiracy theorists who oppose common-sense efforts like mask-wearing, or the truthful teaching of U.S. history in schools, go viral. Some of these people have even threatened violence to achieve their means, a telling echo of the white supremacist insurrection at the U.S. Capitol earlier this year.
Dangerous outcomes like these can be avoided if we hold to this motivating truth: we are not powerless in designing our future. In this pivotal moment in the ongoing American story, we must be relentless in seeking every opportunity to exert whatever access to power we have. To wield real influence over the people whose decisions most directly affect your life, make a plan to vote in your local government elections.