The Virginia 2017 elections showed us what we already knew: Whenever young people show up, progressive values win. Those afraid of progressive values want to keep young people at home, in the dark, and out of touch with our democratic process. 2017 should be a warning sign to those who try and get in the way of the passion and power of young people. And they shouldn’t be surprised when young voters show up in droves next year to make the change we believe in.
Originally printed in RVA #31 WINTER 2017, you can check out the issue HERE or pick it up around Richmond now.
Aug. 12, 2017 was a tough day. For me personally, my Uncle Jerome Gilchrist passed away. He was a Lieutenant in the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police Department and he had been dealing with cancer. While his passing wasn’t unexpected, it was still very painful.
I heard about my Uncle Jerome’s passing while witnessing racism and hate at levels I had never seen before. August 12 was the same day Nazis walked the streets and white supremacists carried guns with the intentions of intimidation in front of my eyes in Charlottesville. It was the day Heather Heyer was killed, and two first responders also died trying to help the dozens of others that were injured in the chaos.
What played out in Virginia was heartbreaking. In many ways, it also seemed like similar chaos had become commonplace on Main Street America in 2017. Some numb from all the horrific actions by the Trump Administrations, others beat down and burnt out from resisting so hard. But it was as if our country was losing grips with what it meant to be American – hope.
My remaining hope was that we could salvage the year with a strong turnout in the 2017 Virginia elections in November. It seemed like the only thing that would either correct or send us over the edge. So it made sense, in a higher power kind of way, that Hip Hop Caucus’s voter engagement efforts in Virginia would be led by someone named “No Malice.”
Respect My Vote!, our award-winning voter education and mobilization program, was poised to engage thousands of young people and encourage them to make their voices heard on Nov. 7. No Malice, a Virginia Beach native formerly of the acclaimed rap duo The Clipse, led a team of over 20 artists and activists from different communities throughout the Commonwealth to register young people, ensure they knew the issues, and prepare them for Election Day. When the dust settled, our team had led multiple online engagement sessions, participated in multiple radio interviews with some of the hottest DJs in Virginia, showed up at homecoming parties, and met face to face with hundreds of students on campuses to talk about why their voice and vote matter in our democracy.
Virginia 2017 was an important test for our team, but more significantly, an important test for our country. It was a sweeping success for progressive values that marked a point in time when the momentum began to shift from the 2016 elections. During a seemingly dismal year and an exceedingly dark time for progressive values, people showed their passion for the issues and understanding of the importance of their vote in order to drive change.
One group, in particular, showed up at the ballot box to impact the results: young people. Despite only 34 percent of young people between the ages of 18-29 turned out, young people in Virginia managed to blow the traditionally low turnout numbers for off-year presidential elections out of the water. They made the difference in the election.
Heading into next year, it’s as important as ever to energize young people and make sure that they know just how important their voice is in our democracy. While the constant stream of bad news out of Washington D.C. might be exhausting, and social media memes and soundbites of Trump are starting to get old, it’s crucial young people stay engaged and focused on their opportunity to make change at the ballot box. The issues we care about – like health care, social and criminal justice, climate change, affordable education, civil and human rights, good paying jobs – are too important, and they’re all at stake.
There are a lot of bad things that keep me up at night, but one of the good things is the sheer opportunity of igniting all the young people who don’t exercise their right to vote. Imagine if the other 66 percent of young people voted in Virginia 2017. Now think about igniting that kind of power, and come to grips with the fact that more millennials will be eligible to vote than baby boomers in 2018. Can you imagine why I’m hopeful for 2018?