By Dr. Barbara A. Reynolds
(Trice Edney Wire) – If pollsters believe African Americans are too overwhelmed, distracted or disinterested to vote in the mid-term and 2024 national elections Nov. 8, they have neither heard nor seen the Arc of Justice 22 city votercade that started in Minneapolis on October 8 and recently finished in a celebration village in Jacksonville, Fla. with the goal of Arc registering 10 million more Black voters.
Civil Rights advocate and lawyer, Barbara Arnwine, head of the Transformative Justice Coalition, is the president, visionary and conductor of the tour—which featured king-sized colorful buses with photos of the patron saint of voting, Rep. John Lewis, and the logos of Operation Push, the National Newspaper Publishers Association, some of the sponsors, on its side. Following the bus were scores of cars, lights-flashing, horns blowing, and energetic voices calling all to “Get out to vote.”
The buses showed up on crowded city streets, on Black college campuses and in rural villages where few thought about voting until the big buses showed up to make sure they knew that midterm votes matter. The votercade purposely chose routes that historically had low turnouts, but by the excitement the tour created that might be about to change.
“Voting is a celebration, everyone wins, when Americans can honor their constitutional right to vote,” says Arnwine.
In addition, at various stops, the Arnwine group gave books that in several White school districts were banned because they featured stories about people of color, slavery or civil rights that made White people uncomfortable. Arnwine and the tour have created so much national excitement about voting, the most powerful non-violence change agent Americans possess, that she was called to Los Angeles to tape the Dr. Phil show to remind the nation how crucial the midterm and national elections are in exercising the most fundamental right of an American citizen—and the dangers of losing it.
What did the nationwide Arc of Justice tour accomplish?
Arnwine pointed to Georgia, one of the most oppressive states in the nation for Black voters, where her coalition and the votercade made a major difference. “Just recently they had the largest voter turnout for a midterm election ever,” she said. “Blacks are defiant in Georgia, the heavy turnout for the midterm was equivalent to the first day of the presidential election. And that had never happened.”
Pointing to another significant turnabout in Georgia, she pointed to Marcus Arbery, the father of Ahmaud Aubery, a 25-year-old Black man, who while jogging, was murdered by three White men, who have been convicted of the crime. She said that much of the family had not voted before Ahmaud’s death, but now they were with the motorcade, registering people to vote. “They have connected justice to voting; I am proud of that family.”
In Milwaukee, one of the poorest cities in the nation, they had a polling place where few usually showed up to vote she said. But they had more people turning out to vote in that one day that the tour bus was there in their entire voting season.
College campuses provide a gold-mine for registering new voters, according to Arnwine. Morgan State, South Carolina State, and North Carolina Central are just a few college campuses the votercade rolled up on. “At one college we found that 40 percent of the college students were unregistered. We were able to register scores of them. If we had not been there, would they have registered?” Arnwine also said the group had trained scores of millennials –those between 18 and 35—on voter registration and they are already plying their skills. “We need to invest more in our young people. They are vital to get out the vote drives.”
College campuses, then, are places where more aggressive voter registration drives should be centered. This is because the vote will determine whether affirmative action which helps so many go to colleges and find employment will be stopped, whether police killing of unarmed Blacks will continue unabated, and where mobs of White supremacists’ terrorism will continue to rise.
Other groups on the votercade also added perspective. Bishop Tavis Grant, acting executive director of the Rainbow Push Coalition, asked “Why are laws making it harder to vote than to get an assault weapon? Why is it so dangerous for Black people to vote? That is because voting shifts the power scale. If our vote was not important, racists wouldn’t be trying so hard to resist it.”
Dr. Georgia Dunston, a nationally respected scientist, is voting rights committee chair of Black Women for Positive Change, which in collaboration with the Arc of Justice coalition sponsored a votercade in Norfolk, Va. and Richmond Va. Dunston says that democracy is on the ballot and if Trump and the Republican controlled Congress wins, it will be the end of our constitutional form of government, which will result in anarchy, a civil war. Trump has already indicated that if the GOP loses or if he is indicted, his people will rise, so that could mean blood in the streets. Well, Blacks are not going back to where White supremacists want to take us and neither are women, who would no longer have control over their own bodies if Trumpism wins. Civil war might be inevitable, although I am hopeful that won’t be the case.”
Dr. Dunston, along with Dr. Stephanie Myers, co-chair of BWPC, have designed a voter pledge card that they believe will help with the overall goal of gaining millions of new voters. It is called the John Lewis Good Trouble Voters Right Pledge. To encourage people to vote, gift cards are to be given to those who can return the most signed pledge cards. For more information see: Blackwomenforpositivechange.org
In the meantime, the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. might be a guide to a way forward. Dr. King vowed, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it always bends back toward justice.”
Arnwine and others say their mission is to assure it bends in the right direction.