I’ve only had the chance to vote in two presidential elections: 2012 and 2016. My first election was monumental. I was a part of making history. I remember the overwhelming joy I felt in 2012. How confident I was in my own skin. How proud I was to be Black. It was an unforgettable victory.
After 2012, I felt the same responsibility to make history. I vote for things I care about like immigration, minimum wage and women’s rights. I remember watching the news. How silence and anxiety filled the living room as my parents and I awaited the results. I remember waiting up all night and dozing off. When I awoke, the latest POTUS was announced. I remember the overwhelming frustration I felt that day. How uncomfortable I was in my own skin. How afraid I was to be black.
Last week, while watching the news, I asked one of my friends if she had intentions of voting in the midterm elections. “It doesn’t matter if I do or don’t,” she said, “there are more stupid people in the world than smart ones.” I knew her frustration far too well. Her disposition came from a place of hurt, but I couldn’t let her wrongfully assume that her vote didn’t matter.
In many communities of color, people share that same ideology. That their vote doesn’t make a difference regardless if they vote or not. However, that isn’t true.
Midterm elections is just an important as the presidential election. While every US president is elected for a four-year term, members of the House of Representatives, the lower chamber of Congress, are elected for only two years at a time. At the same time, many states will also be picking their governors, who serve four years. Midterm elections is an opportunity to express satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the performance of the president and legislatures. Midterm elections will also determine which party makes the rules for the years to come.
This is why voting is important. Voting gives us the opportunity to elect representatives who better fit our needs and share our beliefs. This is most effective when voters research candidates and understand each of their platforms.
Currently, the house and senate are voting on whether or not they’ll add work requirements to critical safety net programs like SNAP and Medicaid. As a former recipient of SNAP, I know how crucial it was to my overall academic success. During this time, I was a full-time student while also working a part-time job. Had it not been for SNAP, I am unsure whether I would have been able to graduate on time or even at all. It may sound absurd but that is how pivotal SNAP was during my college career. That in mind, there are people running for positions that do not believe safety net programs such as SNAP are necessary. However, no one in our communities should have to go hungry especially when our government has the power and resources to prevent hunger.
It’s no secret that people of color have been negatively affected by the current political climate and although progress has been made, black and brown people are still largely underrepresented in politics. However, this year, three states will have the opportunity to elect their first African American governors – a historic precedent.
In addition to protests, marches, boycotts and other effective forms of resistance, people of color have to take out their frustrations during elections on their ballots. In lieu of recent events involving undocumented migrant children and the ineffective action of the government following Hurricane Maria, it is important that Latino voters make their frustrations known by electing candidates who better meet their needs and address their concerns. In the same way, issues such as criminal justice reform, police brutality and healthcare, which largely affect black communities, should fuel people of color to go out and vote.
In spite of the Islamophobic policies the current administration has put into place, Congress prepares to welcome its first Muslim-American women members – Rashida Tlaib , a daughter of Palestinian immigrants from Michigan, and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, a Somali-American who fled the Somali civil war and lived in a Kenyan refugee camp. With the prospect of inclusion in Congress, overtime the dynamic and tone can change to one of liberty and equality rather than injustice and misrepresentation.
I encourage people of color to vote because it is imperative that we have people in legislation who look like us, who understand our experiences, and who can relate to our frustrations. Voting may not seem like a big deal, but for every candidate elected that does not stand for the beliefs and rights of people of color, the consequences of that election will affect the very communities that opted not to vote.
It’s easy to just ignore midterm elections and allow it to pass, especially since it isn’t a presidential election. However, neglecting to exercise your right to vote can be detrimental to you, your family and the people you know. Collectively, we all can change the current political climate. It won’t be instant, but voting is definitely a pivotal step in the right direction.
All in all, my friend was wrong. Her vote does matter and so does yours.