2018 is a midterm election year, and that means the news cycle and a lot of the political energy (and funding) will be running to electoral politics. But what does that mean for social movements, for the Movement for Black Lives? I talk with Jessica Byrd, cofounder of the Movement for Black Lives Electoral Justice Project, and Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson of Highlander Education and Research Center about what role elections play in movements for liberation, what barriers still exist to democracy in the U.S., and much more.


 

JB: This part of elections that I think we talk about the least is the real structural barriers in accessing democracy. Right now, our democracy is really an aspirational one versus one that we are actually finding the fruits of. What happens as we attempt to continue to access it more and more is that there are more barriers put in place for us to fully participate. When I say “us” I mean nearly everyone but white men who own land and have a college degree, etc. Those laws largely were passed as folks were gaining access to democracy and access to voting and elected leadership and finding ways to make their voices heard in our electoral system. Part of what the movement has to engage in, as well, is removing those barriers.
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AWH: I think that what has become ever more real in the southern specific context is that even with the achievements of Black liberation movements before us, specifically around voting rights and civil rights, that we deserve more than what policy ever gave us. I think that the Movement for Black Lives is really pushing both in the Electoral Justice Project and through the Vision for Black Lives policy platform, calling for what we have always deserved and not just what we would concede to.
That looks like demanding even more protections for folks that are exercising their right to vote as one particular form of participation and building people’s democracy. It is not the only tactic, but it is definitely one that we don’t have the luxury to ignore, especially with working class Black people, especially in places that tend to be more disenfranchised, whether because you are a formerly or currently incarcerated person. Alabama, again, is another case study--people who have never been convicted of a crime that are literally not being allowed to vote. We saw folks fight and win protections for those folks and over 10,000 formerly and currently incarcerated people registered to vote in this last election.


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