By Hayley Crandall
Vote. The word and its importance have been the talk of the town since candidates started being announced, but now it’s crunch time.
“If Black folks aren’t tired of hearing about voting, then that means you haven’t done the work,” Tiffany Henry, president of Milwaukee Urban League Young Professionals, said.
Biden for President Wisconsin hosted a “Sister to Sister: Mobilizing in Action” roundtable discussion this past Thursday, Sept. 10. It featured various Black female Wisconsin leaders who stressed the importance of voting, discussed how to vote and expressed their communities’ concerns. The roundtable was moderated by Milwaukee County Board Chairwoman Marcelia Nicholson and was aimed at Black female voters.
The focus on Wisconsin during this time has been tremendous – not only is it a swing state, but Democrats lost Wisconsin by just a few thousands votes in 2016.
“We lost that state by just a couple of thousand votes. Where would we be today had we kept Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania,” said Donna Brazile, former chair of the Democratic National Committee.
“When you break it down to the precincts and county level, basically you’re looking at less than 200,000 Black women that did not go to the polls in 2016,” Brazile continued.
Black women carry a lot, and are a powerful force in their communities, explained Milwaukee Ald. Chantia Lewis.
“We carry a community, we carry our families, we carry those around us,” Lewis said. “One of the most precious adages to me is, ‘When you train a man, you train a man. But when you train a woman, you train a village.’”
In order to use your voice, education is key, Brazile explained. Knowing your voting rights and checking registration status is a major part of the election. Confirming your registration status can be done at iwillvote.com.
“Voter education is going to be key,” Brazile noted. “It’s important that we know all of our rights because we will actually need to check the registration status of every single one of our friends and family members.”
There was also a focus on reaching young people and getting them to partake in voting. The general consensus? Go where the kids are.
“We need to start hitting them where they are. We really need to start engaging them a little bit more,” Lewis said. “There’s so many things they mention to me where I’m like,
‘Woah, I didn’t even think about that stuff.’”
“We have to engage them in innovative ways. We have to meet them where they are. A lot of young people these days are not reading newspapers, they’re getting their news from social media outlets,” said Henry. “But we have to meet them where they are, so they know the connection is real.”
Milwaukee County Supervisor Sequanna Taylor also discussed how educators have encouraged voting by offering students extra credit.
“A year and a half ago, I went out to the high schools throughout MPS and got those [students] registered to vote. We had some educators and teachers join in with us and they gave them extra credit for their schoolwork if they voted, so it was part of civics,” Taylor said. “I think, also, making sure the importance of voting and bringing the schools in on it too because that’s where you can get a lot of students that aren’t yet 18 and give them more information.”
By reaching them where they are, there’s a chance to amplify their voices and bring them to the table, not leaving them in the background.
“Engaging them, asking them questions and not just speaking at them, bringing them to the table. Often times it’s us who are mindful because we’re political junkies who are just tapped into it,” said Lewis. “I ask my kids all the time, ‘What’s important to you?’ and that is what we need to start doing – ensuring that we are bringing them along for the ride.”
The panel also took time to express some of the issues that are important to their community and how they should be addressed, especially under a Biden-Harris administration.
Taylor expressed concerns regarding criminalization but is glad to see the Biden-Harris campaign is talking about criminal reform. She believes education is the starting point and investing in it leads to better environments.
“If we can pay, if I’m not getting it wrong, $60,000 a year to incarcerate someone, but we don’t have $15,000 to educate somebody, we are truly doing a disservice to not just our children but for our community,” Taylor said.
Lewis discussed her stance on education, explaining that while Black women are continuing their education and using it to start businesses, economic support is not following them.
“Black women are rising to the top to be the most educated women and people cohort segment of population in the community. We are rising to the challenge but not only are we educated, we are opening up more businesses,” Lewis said. “The support there is not as equivalent to our counterparts. That is a huge issue.”
Other topics mentioned included health care, especially mental health, and neighborhood housing crisis.
Voting carries a weight. Taking to the streets is one form of action, Henry said, but there’s a need for implementing plans to get people to understand connecting actions with voting.
“I’ve been out with protest groups and assuring that Black voices are valued. Black people, Black bodies, are valued,” Henry said. “Even in those moments, I’m taking the opportunity to let that circle of people know we have to connect our voice, our advocacy, our march, our feet to voting.”
“We can’t give up,” Brazile said. “Our harvest is coming.”