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Vote or Die: Black people, it’s that simple

With the 2020 presidential election approaching, The “Vote Or Die” town hall for REVOLT’s “State of Emergency” brought attention to voter suppression, police brutality, Black Lives Matter, and advocacy through hip hop.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.

“REVOLT BLACK NEWS” was paused last night (Sept. 24) for “State of Emergency: Election Day and Black America” in partnership with CashApp, which hosted a town hall conversation for Black America just a month away from the 2020 presidential election. Host Eboni K. Williams was joined by Kerry Washington, Cordae, Vic Mensa, Rapsody, Tamika Mallory, Dr. Cornel West, Jeff Johnson, Kimberly Jones, Mysonne and Tezlyn Figaro.

“The chairman of this network has rung the alarm,” said Williams as she opened up the show. “The culture and this country are in a state of emergency.”

After stressing the importance of voting, Nov. 3, and how the culture moves everything, she introduced Dr. West, Washington and Cordae for the first discussion. “When we look at where things are now, I would say that we have the largest protest movement in the history of the country,” Dr. West said about our collective movement as a culture including accomplices, allies and our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters. “Our challenge though is that we’ve got so much [entrenchment], greed and hatred and contempt in power.”

Williams briefly shifted her attention to Washington’s advocacy for voting during past election seasons, and using her platform to push call-to-action items and Black Lives Matter messaging. “I don’t speak out because I’m in the public eye. I speak out because I live here in this country and it is my responsibility to make sure that the people who represent us in government are representing us because we pay their salaries,” Washington said. She continued to speak to Williams about “showing up in the streets and showing up at the polls” as a means of protest and taking back our power by voting to put people in office who will listen to us.

“At the end of the day, we are human beings. Before I’m an artist, I’m a Black man in America,” said Cordae about empathizing with Breonna Taylor and other victims of police brutality. Earlier in the summer, the 23-year-old rapper was arrested during a protest, but told Williams that it was in his nature to do something and use his platform to speak out against injustices impacting Black America.

Shifting the topic to the difference between defunding the police and abolishing the police, Dr. West chimed into the conversation to share his opinion. “Anyway we can get full scale accountability,” he said about where he stands. He listed options as civilian/community control, healthcare and education fund allocation and simply assessing the way in which the police violently handle arrests. “I don’t really have my own particular policy. It’s something that the people’s voices must be brought to bare in the way.”

As a supporter of Hillary Clinton, Washington shared her thoughts on how we can ensure the trauma of the 2016 election does not repeat itself. While she praised this generation’s new understanding of the higher stakes, the actress described the events over the past four years under Trump’s presidency as “horrific” though Black America is no stranger to racism or lack of justice.

“I don’t care if you’re not passionate about a particular candidate. Be passionate about yourself, be passionate about your community,” Washington said about the importance of showing up to the polls this election season. “Don’t show up for this candidate. Show up for you.” When Williams asked the youngest panelist, Cordae, about the importance of young people voting, he responded that “this is our future which is at stake.” The recording artist shared that only 19 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds voted in the 2016 election.

Williams then updated viewers on recent news in the Black community. Updates included Jacob Blake’s case and former police chief Noble Wray being brought on as the prosecutors’ consultant, Officer Chauvin revealed to have had a history of excessive force prior to the killing of George Floyd, and the attorney defending the father and son who fatally shot Ahmaud Arbery denying the killing was racially motivated.

“Today marks the 195th day of no justice for Breonna Taylor,” Williams said as she shared the unfortunate news of the grand jury declaring zero murder charges for her death and the officer being charged with wanton endangerment for the shots fired into others’ apartments. The show then listed the names of all of the Black and brown people killed by police brutality in 2020 alone before it being expanded to the past decade and beyond. “We want change and the only way to achieve it is by voting in people who will change the laws so that justice can finally be served,” Williams added.

Mallory was up next in the hostess seat for a pivotal conversation on voter suppression with Jones, Mysonne and Figaro. Figaro expressed the importance of ensuring that voters are not depressed in addition to being suppressed, which can mean recognizing the wins such as one hundred cities putting police reform in place since Floyd’s death. “If people knew that that protest actually turned into policy, how many more could we get to the polls? Why are we not talking about that?” she challenged.

“When you look at the amount of civil unrest that we’re dealing with and the way [we’re] reacting, people are realizing how essential protesting is,” Mysonne chimed in about protests being our first line of defense in policy change. “When you protest, it shows that you’re not okay with it.” Following that, Mysonne said, comes being heard and policy change.

Williams introduced Samantha Smith to share her tips for avoiding traps when voting and registering to vote. Traps included being told that you could only vote at your pre-designated polling place, going home after a polling station has been closed, being antagonized by hatred from opposing voters, and letting your phone die while you’re waiting to vote. “Voting early is the best way to avoid any of these traps,” she said. “Vote because you matter and vote because Black lives matter.”

Next, Williams introduced the conversation about the relationship between music and messaging during election season. Vic Mensa broke down his short film, Machiavelli, for viewers and expressed the importance of using “real people” in his visuals to portray them “accurately and honestly.” In juxtaposition to the images of smiling children and braiding hair, Mensa wanted to show the paranoia that is experienced through the gang culture, cultural violence and hood of Chicago. “The issue of [the] people, those are my issues and this is the life that I live,” he said about his relatability to the everyday circumstances of the disenfranchised communities.

Rapsody spoke on the power in her lyrics by calling out racial injustices in “12 Problems,” which was released last week. “I got 99 problems, and 12 still the biggest,” she raps. “I came across that beat and it just hit. The emotion, it was angry, it was urgent and it [was] just an energy I hadn’t expressed much and I think I really wanted to bring out in this song,” she recalled about her creation process.

The MC cites her ability to “reflect the times” as one of her motivations to continue to spit and push messaging through music. “I like to create in so many different ways,” Rapsody continued, “but the most purest way is to speak on what’s happening around me.”

Inglewood-based rapper D Smoke celebrated Black culture in “Black Habits I” and “Black Habits II” through his lyrical depiction of “the good, the bad, and the ugly of what it means to be Black.” In his songs and parallel visuals, he depicted the complexities, trials, highlights and appreciation of being Black. While he acknowledged that the Black experience produced the star athletes and musicians that we praise today, D Smoke addressed that the community itself does not get the same respect as the public figures on a pedestal do.

“As a community we don’t get the same love, so they just leave us as a people hanging in the Black balance while taking our cream of the crop and putting them on that pedestal for the rest of the world to admire and applaud,” D Smoke added.

Journalist Jeff Johnson led the conversation with Missy Diddy, Slim Thug and EarthGang about how hip hop fits into this upcoming election. In response to recent events surrounding no justice for Taylor and “keeping our eye on the ball,” as Johnson said, Slim Thug recalled Ice Cube’s suggestion of curating a list and telling elected officials what we need. “The more we see us taking L’s back to back, it’s discouraging. But, we need to just keep fighting for other things and get other things accomplished during these times right now.”

Miss Diddy chimed in to stress the importance of educating our community about the importance of voting. “In our communities, in our homes, we weren’t taught this,” she said referring to voting in the Black community. “I had good parents, but they never sat and talked to me about how important it is to vote [and] how important these elections are. That’s something I started to learn as I got older.”

Johnny Venus told Johnson that he was accustomed to seeing people like him in positions of power that you wouldn’t see elsewhere, thus proving that putting the right people in power is possible. “We understand the impact that can be had when you vote and go out and create the change that you want to see,” he said.

EarthGang co-founder Doctur Dot came into the conversation a little later to discuss the importance of healthcare for the Black community when listing the goals and expectations for the next presidential administration. “Even when Obamacare was super poppin’, I had it and I still couldn’t get a physician to see me for like a long time,” he said. “There has to be a way to improve those types of things.”

“A people that have hope can be a real way to the future. But, if we don’t have hope, it’s tough,” said Miss Diddy. When it comes down to choosing the lesser of two evils, she made the clear distinction between “faith” and “hope.”

After a word from Congressman Hakeem Jeffries about “voting like your life depends on it” and electing people who share our values, Williams prepared to close out. “In a time where there’s so much disinformation, it is critical to simplify and disseminate it responsibly,” she said.

“It’s really that deep,” Williams enforced about the importance of voting people into office who will change the laws and using Taylor’s death as an introductory example. “The people that we elect to be in public office, they’re the ones that write the laws and right now Breonna Taylor’s killers and going free, why? Because as the laws are currently written, that’s what they’re designed to do.”

Vote or die.

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