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Black Power | VOTE OR DIE: 2020 is the election of our lifetime

As we face a pivotal turning point in our nation’s history, being politically active in the 2020 election symbolizes more than picking a president — It symbolizes your vow to take action. 

Black voter The New York Times/Alamy Stock Photo

“Black Power” is a bi-weekly editorial column that explores how the Black community can use their collective power to design a new America.

The magnitude of this moment is monumental.

As we face a pivotal turning point in our nation’s history, being politically active in the 2020 election symbolizes more than picking a president — It symbolizes your vow to take action.

Each vote is a fearless act of protest and resistance that brings us one step closer to an equitable future. Each vote embodies the collective pursuit of freedom and marks a definitive step toward revolution. Each vote represents the shared mission to rewrite the rules of democracy.

Nov. 3 marks a day of redemption, presenting the opportunity to reclaim control of the future and demand transformative change.

Representing arguably the most important election of our lifetime, the urgent call to cast a ballot extends beyond partisanship. Whether standing firmly as a Democrat or Republican accustomed to making decisions that lean into a blind loyalty for party politics, what’s currently at stake on a federal, state and local level transcends red or blue.

From issues of equal pay and protecting women’s reproductive rights to criminal justice reform, protecting historic civil rights legislation, and creating a clean energy future; exercising your right to vote speaks more specifically to values of morality, fairness and human decency.

Since the 2016 election, we’ve seen the morale of America dramatically decline, causing a powerful nation marked by aspiration, access and progress to be overcome with chaos, conflict, and continual controversy.

This year alone, COVID-19 quickly evolved into a global health crisis that continues reshaping the way we all live our lives. Around the world, we’ve watched stores close, schools shut down, busy streets silenced, and hospitals become overcrowded with rising cases as surges hit record numbers.

As mandatory quarantine forced millions into isolation, this unexpected pandemic seemingly brought the world closer. People from all walks of life became unified by a shared empathy and compassion, fueled by a collective desire to survive through these unprecedented times.

Yet, while the pandemic perceivably brought the world together, it has also served as a catalyst for greater division. From nationwide protests against police brutality and systematic injustice to reaching record levels of unemployment; we’ve seen social, racial, economic and political gaps increasingly widen.

Whether you are one of the many who have lost faith in the political process, adamantly believe your vote doesn’t count, or find certainty in the idea that your voice will be inevitably silenced, voting in the 2020 election serves a purpose far bigger than merely appointing a new commander-in-chief to lead America into the next term.

Black voter The New York Times/Alamy Stock Photo

The underlying statement attached to performing your civic duty, in its simplest form, sends a definitive message that when everything is on the line, being idle will no longer be a viable option. More notably, when your life and the lives of those who matter to you are at greater risk of being adversely affected; voting symbolizes an ongoing commitment to actively challenge, reimagine, and redesign America every step forward.

When the founding documents of this country were written into law — from the Constitution of the United States to the Declaration of Independence — Black people were never intended to enjoy the freedoms of America. James Baldwin, one of the most prolific Black writers and intellectuals, provided a simple synopsis regarding our conflicting relationship with patriotism, declaring, “It comes as a great shock...to discover the flag to which you have pledged allegiance...has not pledged allegiance to you.”

Battling against centuries of compounded racism and systematic oppression, Black people have remained in a perpetual fight for justice, equality, and basic human rights.

These individual battles symbolize the shared effort to frame a future in which Black people can exist in the fullness of our identity without facing subjugation or persecution, free to enjoy the liberties and protections perceivably afforded to all people.

Seeing this paradox perpetuated through the inner workings of education, economics, politics and the criminal justice system, no level of perceived progress has proven capable of reversing the mechanics of racism or systemic oppression. Carrying the weight of this persistent reality has caused many Black people to lose hope in ever achieving freedom, equality or sociopolitical advancement.

The institutions designed to uplift and equip us have historically stripped and reduced us, while the systems intended to protect and serve us have inversely dehumanized and defiled us without accountability or consequence. Lacking sufficient access and opportunity, we are disproportionately impacted by the crippling effects of poverty, mass incarceration, unemployment, and discrimination.

In his acclaimed bestseller “Race Matters,” Dr. Cornel West elaborates upon this when explaining the psychological warfare that exists beneath systematic oppression in America. The renowned critical theorist asserts that the silent pandemic plaguing Blacks and other marginalized people is nihilism. Nihilism speaks to reaching the state of rejecting all moral and spiritual principles, living without a sense of hope, love and meaning. “Nihilism is a natural consequence of a culture or civilization ruled and regulated by categories that mask manipulation, mastery and domination of people,” West describes.

Nihilism is a paralyzing condition that surfaces as a byproduct of poverty, oppression and unresolved anguish. It is accompanied by crippling side effects such as depression, rage, and a numbing apathy that creates a sense of detachment from society.

Understanding the nihilistic threat, Baldwin also suggests a very specific process for deconstructing and ultimately redefining our position as Black people in America. His practice of Black existentialism prescribed that Black people must displace themselves from their native environment or dwell in uncomfortable solitude to develop a clearer definition of who they are, forcefully stripping themselves of their learned identity, adopted beliefs and rightful skepticism.

Black voters Dan Budnik/Contact Press Images

This process serves to reshape our individual perspective in a way that allows Black people in America — and across the diaspora — to discover how they can better empower themselves, as well as the collective. Existentialism is a philosophy emphasizing that an individual is responsible for their own actions and possesses the freedom to choose both their development and destiny. It is the process of claiming control over your life, your future, and your country. As such, stepping outside of our predetermined identity prompts the critical questions required to become enlightened and discover our greater purpose in the face of turmoil.

By experiencing such extreme vulnerability, Black people are forced to candidly confront the inner truths that fuel feelings of defeat and hopelessness. Through this practice, we can run nowhere but within — incapable of solely claiming the known dynamics of race to justify giving up or refusing to take action nor leveraging the realities of history as a justifiable reason to settle in conformity. The singular point Baldwin sought to make is that for Black people to truly experience joy and hope in society, we must directly attack the issues impacting us on every level.

Generations of fearless Black civil, social and political leaders have emerged to carry the burden of engaging in both violent and nonviolent resistance movements to advocate for the right to be acknowledged, respected and systematically counted.

The works of storied rebels, activists, intellectuals and political figures laid the groundwork for designing a new America, one that makes room for Black people and other marginalized groups to be seen as more than commodities, instead being treated as equal human beings deserving of co-existing with the same freedoms, rights and protections afforded to all.

The significant strides made through these revolutionary movements have created a current racial climate that appears several steps closer to the ultimate goal. Suffering the loss of several preeminent civil rights leaders, amidst such a crucial election year and moment in American history, the endless sacrifices made for the advancement of Black life are being honored with a reverence that commends the selfless commitment made by countless men and women across generations.

While we witness Black Lives Matter grow into what has become the largest and most diverse civil rights movement ever, immortalizing the legacies of service that have contributed to a shared sense of pride and hope, the nation currently faces a breaking point that brings their agenda full circle.

Manifesting a more equitable, just and socially progressive future calls for the efforts of every individual, across spaces and categories, to intentionally focus our efforts toward taking the necessary actions to protect, preserve and elevate the value of the collective. We can’t demand change if we aren’t actively committed to creating the change ourselves.

Vote for yourself. Vote for your family. Vote for your future. Vote for change. Vote for truth. Vote for love. Vote to honor those who risked their lives to make your voice heard. Prove your voice matters. Prove you have power. The decisions you make this election will impact the rest of your life. VOTE OR DIE.

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