While standing in a long line to vote, local teacher and activist Andrea made a point that resonated deeply and echoes words I have often heard from colleagues at work and other people in my life over the last few months. Being true activists and advocates of real change in the black community requires having the intestinal fortitude to “Speak Truth to Power.”
Speaking truth to power, at times, is exhausting!
Speaking truth to power about the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, and Sandra Bland in the world where body cams and cellphones exist are exhausting! Why is there a need for Speaking truth to power about our black children’s need for access to key educational resources and quality education in America is exhausting! Why in 2020 is there a need to develop teaching manuals and reading materials on how to treat a black person in America, when we live in the world of GOOGLE? Why is there still a need to speak truth to power about unequal access to key resources, systematic inequality, economic opportunity, racial inequality, structural and institutional racism, and voting rights? Exhausting!
While standing in the line to vote, I realized why I was exhausted! Fellow volunteers, poll workers, stationed near the voting machines were exhausted as well. I could see it on their face and hear it in their voice, as one of the poll workers reported to the crowd: “The lines are becoming longer and the six feet social distancing seems as if it is not working.” As the six-foot space between voters shortened, the workers burst into action, pulling out a measuring tape, yelling “keep your masks on” in pursuit of un-masked violators. After waiting in line for thirty minutes, someone at the back of the line echoed the old civil rights protest song of the late 19th century, “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around.”
For black people in America, singing protest songs are reminders of the harsh realities seen by all of us. Cary Darling, features and entertainment writer at the Houston Chronicle, wrote that “many commentators have drawn parallels between the unrest that has rocked the U.S. in the last week with what occurred in the late ‘60s/early 70s when the combustible combo of anger over the societal mistreatment of black Americans, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Vietnam War exploded like a molotov cocktail across the streets of America.”
Historically, it’s a different journey from that of the 1960s and ‘70s, but the impact is the same. It is against this background that black people are seizing the moment, raising their voices, and singing songs of freedom. Experts contend that black people expressed their hopes and dreams through the repertoire of protest songs. The songs materialized the historic and continuing power and possibility of Black existence through sound in the face of long histories of oppression.
Today, not much has changed! Black men and women are still finding themselves constantly picking up five smooth stones to slay Goliath – and we are Exhausted!
Today, Black men and women continue to fight the battle against Goliath daily, yet decades-old discriminatory voting practices remain. Suppression efforts range from states closing nearly 1,200 polling places and voters polling sites changing without notification to mass purges of voter rolls and systemic disenfranchisement. And long before election cycles even begin, legislators can redraw district lines that determine the weight of your vote. Certain communities are particularly susceptible to suppression and in some cases, outright targeted —particularly black people and the elderly.
In some cases, politicians pass measures that make it very difficult to cast a ballot. Methods used back in the 1960s are still being used today to manipulate political outcomes. And the result is severely compromising democracy.
Despite widespread opposition, racial epithets being hurled, voters being jailed, arbitrary literacy tests and poll taxes, harassments, and physical assaults, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, we are reminded…
“Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around!”