The Southern Poverty Law Center has launched Our Future, Our Vote, a campaign to equip young voters with the tools needed to navigate and overcome the growing barriers to casting a ballot.
“With so much at stake, the SPLC is working to increase voter turnout for the 2022 midterm election, despite the hurdles lawmakers have put in place and the apathy some have regarding the process,” said LaShawn Warren, SPLC chief policy officer. “This campaign will arm voters with the tools and information they need to navigate changing election laws in their states that are purposefully designed to limit participation and the political power of communities of color.”
The SPLC will reach out to community and historically Black colleges and universities with materials to distribute around campus, encouraging students to hold voter registration and voter turnout drives if they aren’t already. It will also support existing student body efforts, while encouraging students to consider organizing voting drives in counties where support or information is not readily available.
“In the words of W.E.B. Du Bois: ‘As goes the South so goes the nation,’ ” SPLC President and CEO Margaret Huang said last month at the Power on the Line Democracy Day Rally in Washington, D.C. “This effort to strip away the rights of voters of color across the country to elect candidates that represent their communities cannot be allowed to stand.”
The rally occurred as the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Merrill v. Milligan – a case that could undermine a key section of the Voting Rights Act if a congressional district map that dilutes Black Alabamians’ voting power is allowed.
With the midterm election approaching, a wave of state election laws threatens to suppress the vote, particularly those of people of color. State lawmakers have passed laws restricting voting hours, early voting and instituting strict ID requirements, among others.
Last year, U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, Georgia’s first Black senator, used his first speech from the Senate floor to highlight the threat.
“We are witnessing right now a massive and unabashed assault on voting rights unlike anything we’ve ever seen since the Jim Crow era,” Warnock said during the speech. “This is Jim Crow in new clothes.”
And it all comes at a time when the nation – and its electorate – must make incredibly important decisions. The upcoming midterm elections include congressional races, where all 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate’s seats are up for grabs.
“This election cycle is critical for the future of our country,” Warren said. “Issues such as reproductive freedom, health care, education, criminal justice policing, the courts, voting rights, climate change and, more importantly, the health and longevity of our democracy, hang in the balance.”
Our Future, Our Vote will also include work with the SPLC’s Vote Your Voice grantees, organizations that have received grants from the SPLC to scale up their voter outreach and civic engagement efforts.
“We want young people to show up and exercise their right to vote,” Warren said. “We will fight tooth and nail to ensure that all voters can vote and have that vote counted – it’s our future we’re fighting for.”
The urgency of this moment was evidenced by speakers at the Washington rally, including U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell – the only Black member of the Alabama House delegation. Voting rights organizations and plaintiffs in the Merrill lawsuit also spoke.
“The SPLC is – and always has been – committed to social and racial justice,” Warren said. “This election cycle is no different, except that we’re up against an enormous wall of white supremacy wishing to weed out and silence the opinions and votes of Black and Brown people.
“With Our Future, Our Vote, we not only hope to engage others to vote, but to also bring support to Black and Brown communities, which are slowly but surely being robbed of their constitutional right to vote and their political power.”
Illustration at top by Elias Stein