“It’s time for America to get right.” – Fannie Lou Hamer
The civil rights legend Fannie Lou Hamer would be 100 years old today.
While other civil rights leaders of the 20th century – like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.- might have been the face of the movement, Hamer was certainly the heart. She was never afraid to speak her mind in the face of injustice and face the harsh consequences. She was a grassroots leader who fought for the basic rights we sometimes take for granted, including the right to vote. She was a movement inside the movement.
It was people like Hamer who inspired me to travel to Charlottesville in August to stand up to hate and bigotry. It was in the Fannie Lou Hamer spirit that Heather Heyer marched in the street the day she was killed. And it is in that same spirit that we will continue pushing ahead for a better future for all.
Our country is sitting at a crossroads right now. There are so many pressing issues of today – from a rise of radical white supremacists, mental health issues, drug epidemics, healthcare, immigration, criminal justice reform, to climate change – there are too many to talk about and so much to be done. The question is whether we are willing to do anything about them. Can we take our passion for the issues and turn it into real change?
This fall, many of us around the country will have a chance to do so. We can vote on Nov. 7. And the Virginia elections are of particular importance.
The choices made that day at the ballot box not only have drastic implications at every level of government within the Commonwealth, but they are also being seen nationally as a gauge on whether people are willing to make their voices heard following the 2016 presidential election. Non-presidential election year turnout is traditionally low, so the question is whether the citizens, including young people and communities of color, are enraged and engaged enough to make their voices heard in our democracy. Are people going to show up and vote in 2017? We know the movement to make change in 2017 and beyond is growing – and the first test just how much people care is in Virginia.
My team at Hip Hop Caucus is hitting the ground running throughout Virginia. Through our Respect My Vote! initiative, we are teaming up with some of the most influential artists and young leaders across the Commonwealth to make sure people know that they have the power to make the change they are seeking.
We have artists like No Malice, formerly of the acclaimed rap duo The Clipse and Virginia Beach native, leading the movement to get people registered to vote and preparing them for election day. Our grassroots network and leadership will also be out talking to young people on campuses, meeting people at concert venues, and appearing on local radio and TV shows.
A key focus in Virginia this year will be reaching the 150,000+ ex-offenders who now have the right to vote. After a backwards ruling by the Virginia Supreme Court to undo automatic voter restoration for ex-offenders in July 2016, Gov. McAuliffe took bold action to re-enfranchise them. Ex-offender disenfranchisement is the only set of Jim Crow laws that has actually expanded since the Jim Crow era, making the Governor’s action to re-enfranchise these voters truly historic. One in four African Americans in Virginia who have convictions can now vote, which equates to nearly 20 percent of the African American community of voting age that are now eligible to cast their ballots. This is a big deal.
From Northern Virginia, to Charlottesville, to Richmond, to Hampton Roads, this is your time to take action and exercise your most precious right. The first step is to make sure you are registered to vote. The deadline to register in Virginia is October 16, and you can easily do so by visiting RespectMyVote.com.
Hamer’s spirit must live on today. We need Virginia to be that movement within the movement across America. Vote on November 7.
It’s time for America to get right.
About: Respect My Vote! is a non-partisan, voter registration, education, and mobilization campaign of the Hip Hop Caucus, a national, non-profit organization founded in 2004. We organize the people and institutions that create and promote urban and pop culture in order to reach, engage, and mobilize our communities, register them to vote, and empower them within democracy. Respect My Vote!’s core activities are voter registration, voter education, get-out-the-vote, and voter protection. The work, however, does not end after Election Day. Hip Hop Caucus is a multi-issue organization with a progressive agenda focused on: strengthening democracy, civil and human rights, climate change and environmental justice, and, economic empowerment. Hip Hop Caucus works to hold elected officials accountable to our issue agenda and keeps young voters engaged in the advocacy and civic process.