“At the end of the day, we know our vote matters. People know where the power lies. The power starts in this parking lot. The power starts here!”
Those words rang out from BLOC (Black Leaders Organizing for Communities) founder and executive director Angela Lang’s mic to an energized and hopeful crowd of voters and GOTV volunteers in Milwaukee, Wisconsin during the final stop of Congressman Jamaal Bowman’s “Democracy on the Line: National Voter Engagement Tour.” I attended this leg of the six-stop tour of key swing cities aimed at mobilizing high potential, low propensity voters of color to turnout for the Midterm elections.
Just a couple weeks later, Democrat Tony Evers defeated Trump-backed election denier Tim Michels in the Governor’s race. During his campaign, Michels spread disinformation around the demonstrations that erupted after the police shooting of Jacob Blake in 2020, followed the anti-immigrant playbook, and generally tried to motivate voters by fear. But thanks to Wisconsin voters and the Black and brown-led grassroots organizations, he failed.
One of those organizations, the Center for Racial and Gender Equity (CRGE), took to the streets and hit doors with Rep. Bowman to connect with voters, learn about the issues important to them, and help them create their voting plan.
Rep. Bowman — who made history last year as the first Black person to be elected to New York’s 16th district — shared his transformational story from one of political apathy and disillusionment to one of self-agency and empowerment: “I ain’t never cared about politics when I was young,” said Bowman. “I felt the system didn’t work for me and you know what? I was right. But I wasn’t gonna just sit on the couch and do nothing about it.”
He went on to say that no one thought he would win his election, but that they were able to triple voter turnout from one election to the next.
Being at this event, I experienced that palpable joy you feel when you see Black and brown people getting together to mobilize their community and that sense of hope that comes from realized empowerment and self agency. I described my feelings while recounting my time at the event to Community Change Senior Policy and Advocacy Manager, Jennifer Cossyleon, who told me, what I was describing was called collective effervescence — the shared “sense of energy and harmony people feel when they come together in a group around a shared purpose.” It described perfectly our shared purpose that day to build up the power of our community members.
As a lifelong Wisconsinite who recently moved back home after spending nearly six years in the D.M.V. — I knew I had to make it my business to get registered to vote in the state. As a black woman, a new mom and caregiver — I knew how important it was for people like me to make their voice heard at the ballot box.
Nevermind the inconvenience of actually obtaining a state I.D. so that I could vote — two trips to the Department of Motor Vehicles after failing to fill out one of the required forms and mistakenly bringing just one proof of residency. This is all thanks to Wisconsin’s strict and suppressive voter I.D. laws. And as if that wasn’t enough, I had to register online and then make a trip to my local city clerk’s office to fill out and submit my voter registration form — all because I didn’t yet have a “valid” state I.D. and it was less than 20 days before the Election.
But that’s the point, right? These are precisely the kinds of barriers the GOP wants us to go through in exercising our right in an attempt to discourage us from actually doing so. And sadly, it works. In 2017, nearly 17,000 eligible people were prevented from voting due to state laws.
All of this points to our democracy being under severe threat. After all, the ballot I was finally able to obtain boasted election deniers who used racist fearmongering tactics throughout their campaigns in ads, debates and spewed rhetoric harmful to communities of color, LGBTQ people, and women.
Still — Evers won in the end. And there was massive turnout for Senate hopeful Mandela Barnes, who got within one point of incumbent Ron Johnson, when weeks ago, polls showed much larger margins.
Community-centered GOTV events like the one I attended took place in pockets all over the state these last few months and despite coming up short in some key state and Congressional races in the Midterm elections — Wisconsin showed the country the power that lies in organizing while building a multi-racial democracy in the process.
Like many of our key battleground states this cycle, Wisconsin became a case study on the mobilization that is spurred when we put ideas in front of people that help them envision the future they want to see for themselves and their families. The ballot measures and referendums, not just in Wisconsin, but throughout the country, accounted for many of our wins — and that is how we know we can change the country. There was overwhelming support of the local ballot measures across the state for decriminalization and abortion rights.
I showed up to the ballot box because as a parent, I want elected officials who understand the importance of sufficiently funding community programs and public schools, supporting the right to choose, and fighting against things like rising costs. My family and community deserve an economy that works for us — one anchored in security and stability.
Simply put, we outperformed expectations and quelled the “big red wipeout” Republicans predicted would happen, not just here, but with hardfought wins in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada.
But we know our work isn’t done. Afterall, Black voter participation in Wisconsin has been on a consistent decline the last several years and post-election results tell us that thousands of voters voted for the white Democrat Governor, but not the Black Democrat Senator (this is what I meant by “mostly” understanding the assignment).
So, we’ll continue to invest in organizing and invest in people.
And while we know that “Voting is the muscle that strengthens democracy,” we also know that electoral power is built in between elections. That’s why we’ll continue to have important conversations with our friends, families, and neighbors on the issues that matter all year round – yes including at the Thanksgiving dinner table.
We’ll keep showing up to the table and working to build a multi-racial democracy that works for everyone — one underpinned by expanded safety net programs, a fully-funded care economy and a continued fight for voting rights. And we must win policy change. We’ll continue the fight for a bold, inclusive, and caring governing agenda that improves the material conditions of low-income communities and against inequitable systems and structures.
I’m reminded by Community Change Fellow Ayanna Albertson that “Democracy is a long game, you don’t get results immediately, you get results through consistency.”
Consistent is just one of the many things we’ll need to be as we continue to engage voters and build up our base in Georgia for next month’s Senate runoff election between incumbent Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker.
And that’s that we’ll continue to do.
In the words of Community Change Co-president Dorian Warren, “.These midterm results show us what bending the arc toward justice truly looks like… In our march toward justice, this is just the beginning.”