The matriarchs of my family have always treated voting as a sacred ritual. Not a single election went by during my childhood that my mother did not bring me to the polls to watch her vote. Whether that meant waking up before the sun to drive to our nearest polling place so she could cast her vote before she dropped me off for school, or being among the last voters in line, exhausted after a long day’s work, quelling an inconsolable tween whose primary concern was whether we’d be going to Burger King after, my mother always upheld her civic duty to vote. And she always made sure that I, her only daughter, was present to watch.
See, to my mom, a child of the civil rights movement, born in the 1950s, voting was a privilege. It was the be-all and end-all. It was a right that had been legally and systematically withheld from Black people—Black women—for so long, she felt it would be nothing short of a slap in the face to her ancestors to voluntarily deny that privilege. My grandmother, born in the 1920s, felt the same. After all, her great-grandparents had been slaves, hardly able to visualize the prospect of freedom, let alone the ability to exercise the right to vote—a power that was historically reserved for white male property owners. It simply was not an option for my mother or grandmother to choose to forfeit their voting rights given the historical gravity and laborious terms surrounding the acquisition of universal suffrage.
Our family’s voting ritual culminated in 2008, when my grandmother, mother, and I went to the small church two blocks away from my grandmother’s house, which doubled as a polling station, to cast their votes for Barack Obama. The act was monumental at the baseline because two Black women were exercising their rights to vote, a radical act that the founders of the Constitution never intended. But that day was made infinitely more significant because two Black women were voting for a Black man, who would, of course, become the 44th President of the United States. (The day was significant for me because I got to go to Burger King after.)
The generations that preceded me rightly held voting to such a high standard because they directly had ties to a world where Black enfranchisement wasn’t the norm. My generation, on the other hand, is significantly more disillusioned. While we are keenly aware of our history and the struggle endured to acquire the universal right to vote, we also are able to see the cracks beneath the surface. The radical injustices associated with a system that proclaims itself as just. If my mother and grandmother’s generations saw the right to vote as the be-all and end-all, the almighty Oz, my generation’s unique gaze beholds Oz as just a man—and he’s white, self-interested, and a master puppeteer.
It’s no secret that the relationship between voting and Black America is a long, complicated one. From its inception and for almost the first 100 years of American history, Black people were denied the right to vote—simply because they were not white, not property owners, and not regarded legally as a full person. The 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, technically granted Black (men) the right to vote, however many southern states utilized a plethora of tactics to prevent them from actually being able to do so. Literacy tests, poll taxes, gerrymandering, and grandfather clauses were among the many strategies employed to promote Black disenfranchisement. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 sought to rectify these unjust practices, as it was the first piece of legislation to formally prohibit racial discrimination in voting. But still, racist officials and lawmakers found loopholes within the system to prevent Black people from exercising their voting rights. The creation of voter ID laws, the illegitimate closing of polling places, and the reduction of early voting rights are all ways in which voter suppression still, to this day, plagues the Black community. So while the triumphs of acquiring Black enfranchisement were at the top of mind for my mother and grandmother’s generations, the somber realities of discriminatory disenfranchisement practices are jarring truths that mar my generation’s outlook on the subject of the vote.
I want to be very clear: I am a Black woman and I will be voting in November. And, at the risk of sounding like an episode of Schoolhouse Rock, you absolutely should too. Maybe it’s naïveté, or maybe my mother and grandmother’s voting had tremendous lasting power, but I am of the unwavering opinion that if you can vote, you must. And if you are Black, I mean this tenfold. No, not because our ancestors fought for this right (I do not believe in guilting people to vote), but because far too much is at stake to deny ourselves this right. In the words of Aubrey Stone, President of the Black Chamber of Commerce, “We cannot expect to win with every vote, but if we don’t vote, we can certainly expect to lose.”
I’ll admit, it is exhausting to vote in a political system where your community is not only underserved, but systemically under attack. Almost 50 years after the Civil Rights Act, the racial wealth gap suggests Black men still earn 87 cents for every dollar earned by white men. Almost 66 years after Brown v. Board of Education, racial inequality in our education system still persists as Black students graduate at drastically lower rates than white students, and are more likely to be expelled, less likely to be invited into gifted student programs, and more likely to be overlooked by teachers. According to the Bureau of Justice, 1 in every 4 Black men is likely to go to prison, whereas 1 in every 23 white men is projected to serve time in prison. Black women who give birth in hospitals that primarily serve Black communities are far more likely to have serious health complications than women who give birth in “white-serving” communities. And as we all were reminded this year after the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, even though Black people account for less than 13% of the American population, they are still twice as likely to be shot and killed by the police. The system is downright abhorrent for Black Americans. But the answer isn’t for us to not vote. The answer isn’t to self-serve defeat because defeat is expected. I can’t recall any victorious historical movement that was achieved through the passive act of surrender.
The truth is, while suffrage isn’t the all-powerful Oz that my mother and grandmother once proclaimed it to be, voting is a tool that has considerable power and influence in drastically improving our daily living standards. In the upcoming November election, specifically, we’re voting in the hopes of increasing the federal minimum wage, ending the cash bail system, restoring the Voting Rights Act (which was compromised by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder in 2013), and increasing federal funding for public schools. For minorities, in particular, we’re voting to reinstate DACA, advance the enactment of the LGBTQIA Equality Act, rescind the Muslim-targeted travel ban, and decriminalize marijuana. Access to affordable healthcare, tuition free college, and investment in climate change programs are also all among the many political initiatives that will ultimately be decided by your vote.
And yes, I do specifically mean your vote. I’m cringing at the children’s television-level soapbox I’ve unintentionally found myself standing on, but your vote sincerely does matter. Every vote does. Overwhelming data shows just how many elections have been decided by a mere handful of voters. In 1991, a House seat in Virginia was determined by one single vote. In 2002, a GOP House primary in the state of Washington was decided by just one vote. George W. Bush infamously won the deciding state of Florida in the 2000 presidential election by roughly 500 votes. And, of course, in 2016, Donald Trump secured the presidency by winning just enough votes to secure the Electoral College. Roughly 43% of eligible voters did not turnout to the polls in 2016. And for that, we are paying dearly.
The presidential election next month is one of momentous importance because we are quite literally voting for our lives. And again, if you are Black, I mean this tenfold. A considerable amount of voter apathy comes from the erroneous and, quite frankly, dangerous idea that a Biden Presidency would be just as bad as a Trump Presidency. And while it is absolutely correct that Biden’s political record is not squeaky clean when it comes to his previous political platforms that affected the Black community (i.e. The 1994 Crime Bill and his former anti-busing stance), it is paramount to affirm that re-electing Trump for a second term (either actively by voting for him or passively by choosing not to vote) would be far more damning to Black America than electing Biden. Neither candidate provides the prospect for a perfect presidency, but one candidate refuses to denounce white supremacy, which freely and directly puts Black America under siege. If the leader of the free world cannot merely condemn the malignant threat and oldest form of racism that has plagued our nation, the floodgates of unbridled bigotry will be jolted open and a second-term presidency would terrorize our worlds in unfathomable ways. As Sonya Renee Taylor so poignantly directs, “vote like you are picking the enemy you want to fight.” Be clear that we would all be better off fighting the enemy whose political record is considerably tainted, than the enemy who wholly rejects the validity of our existence.
No, voting is not the ultimate answer to all of the injustices that plague the Black community. Only a complete and total societal reckoning can even begin to tackle that monumental feat. But voting is an essential step that can be utilized to affect necessary and transformative change. Your vote has tremendous power; you simply must use it forcefully and strategically. But we mustn’t stop our work after we’ve cast our votes at the polls. My mother and grandmother were correct that voting is paramount, but they were wrong about it being the be-all and end-all. We must vote in November, and continue our civic engagement in other proactive ways. We must vote in November, and continue to protest—since the protests that ensued after George Floyd’s death, Minneapolis, D.C., Chicago, and Denver have banned the use of chokeholds and many city governments have removed public sightings of Confederate monuments. We must vote in November, and hold our representatives accountable—in 2006 an immigration reform bill that would increase fines and prison sentences for undocumented immigrants was not enacted because of a successful citizen uprising in the Latinx community. We must vote in November, and continue to act. Voting is merely a single action item, on the thousand-page to-do list of “how to fix America.” But it’s a critical step, nonetheless.
Image: Element5 Digital / Unsplash
If you’re like me, your feed has been flooded with opportunities to get involved in the cause of social justice lately. (If not…get a new feed.) People across the country have marched, defied curfews, written letters, donated, marched some more, and even offered to send nudes, all for the cause of human rights. With so many options for how to get involved with the cause of police reform, it can be hard to figure out what direction to go. Luckily, each zodiac sign has its own strengths it can bring to the cause of social justice to help them be a better activist. Because we all have to be activists now, btw. Apathy isn’t cute.
Aries – The Leader
Fiery Aries has no problem activating “get sh*t done mode,” or leading a dedicated team to victory. You’re the one who is organizing friends to go to the march and making sure everyone has their cell phone charged, water bottle, emergency phone numbers, and alphabetized list of call-and-response chants you printed. Just remember, if you’re a white ally it’s best not to actually lead those chants yourselves. It’s a bad look.
Taurus – The Low-Key Changemaker
Movements can take a long time to actually see change (the Montgomery Bus Boycott lasted 382 days!), but luckily, like with everything else, Taurus is in it for the long haul. Taurus has the determination to do the less glamorous work of activism, like writing their city councilman, calling their state senators, and showing up (either in person or by mail) in every damn election they can. Rome wasn’t built in a day!
Gemini – The Great Debater
Gemini are known for their amazing communication skills, so they’re the ones most likely to be taking on the delightful task of having hard conversations around race with friends, family, and the occasional stranger on Instagram. Gemini’s superpower is translating complex ideas into more digestible ones, and your genuine love of debate means you actually have the stamina to continue the conversation until Aunt Elaine kind-of-sort-of sees why “all lives matter” is an unnecessary statement. Baby steps.
Cancer – The Group Mom
Cancers are the caregivers of the zodiac, and feel most fulfilled when they are directly helping their fellow humans on the ground. Given that hugs are kind of not a thing right now, you’re the person handing out water bottles to protesters or opening your doors to marchers who need to refuel and recharge. And yes, you are more than happy to share your homemade protest trail mix recipe with the group.
Leo – The Public Relations Master
Leos know a thing or two about the spotlight, and you’re using your expertise to shine it on Black voices and racial injustice. You’re the most likely to be using your social media to amplify the message of the movement, and being very visible in your support for the cause without fear of losing followers or “messing up your brand.” (Ew.) If a follower can’t handle you at your “Black lives matter” they don’t deserve you at your “check out this cute picture of a dog.”
Virgo – The Smart One
Meticulous Virgo is all about solving problems, so you’ve already probably started educating yourself on the nitty gritty of police reform, local and federal legislation, and the entire history of policing in the United States. It’s been a week. You’re that friend who knows all the legislation that’s on the table and what people are saying about it, from the new Justice and Policing Act of 2020, to the 8 Can’t Wait campaign and 8toAbolition. Oh, and did I mention you can recall important statistics about racial inequality in policing at the drop of a hat? What? Like it’s hard?
Libra – The Peacemaker
I mean, considering the symbol for your sign is literally the scales of justice, you’ve probably been pretty interested in what’s been going on in the world. Diplomatic by nature, you’re particularly gifted at helping bridge divides between people. Pair this up with the fact that you tend to be aesthetically minded, and you’re the sign most likely to be creating helpful, shareable infographics on social justice issues, like how to talk about systemic racism, or how to discuss the protests with Aunt Karen without going f*cking insane.
Scorpio – The Truth Seeker
Scorpios are natural truth seekers and are always asking questions. Recent events might have you going back and re-learning history that was taught to you wrong, or learning Black history that was never taught to you at all. You’re that friend who has low-key watched every social justice doc on Netflix and took all those “social justice book club” posts to heart. Just don’t forget to share what you’ve learned once you’re done!
Sagittarius – The Philosopher
Sagittarius is basically the wise old owl of the zodiac, so you’ve probably found yourself drawn to social justice TED Talks, writers like James Baldwin, and anti-racist activists like Audre Lorde. You’re the one sharing poignant quotes and helpful context on social media, while also basically teaching yourself your own little Racism 101 class at home. Hopefully you pay a little more attention than you did in college…
Capricorn – Mr. Moneybags
Known for their hard work and determination, Capricorns are a great ally to any cause. Also like, you write the checks. Capricorns are the most likely to have budgeted in space for charitable donations, meaning you’ve spent the last week putting your money where your mouth is. Literally. For those who don’t have the expendable cash right now (there is a pandemic, after all) Capricorns are also the most likely to organize fundraising efforts like GoFundMes and mutual aid efforts. And God forbid if you discover one penny out of line…
Aquarius – The Revolutionary
I mean, talk about the dawning of the age of Aquarius. You are a natural activist and the rebel of the zodiac, meaning you’ve probably been out on these streets since day one. You have no problem challenging the status quo (or your city’s curfew) to make your voice heard, and you are the sign most likely to engage in riskier forms of activism. So yeah, let’s hope that friend who always said they’d bail you out of jail actually means it.
Pisces – The Hugger
As the most sensitive and empathic sign in the zodiac, you’ve been deeply affected by the pain being expressed across the globe right now. You’re the sign most likely to express yourself through art or to write about your feelings and post about them online. Though please, no interpretive dance TikToks. It’s not needed.
This week, Pepsi released the commercial for their new “Live For Now Moments Anthem” campaign (which is a fucking mouthful and what does it mean??), and to say people are unimpressed would be an understatement. In times like this, it seemed like there was nothing that could unite the American public, but Pepsi and Kendall Jenner have managed to do it by offending literally every single person with this bizarre ad. We’re going to break it down for you, but we recommend first watching the video in its entirety here. Do it now while you still can—we have a feeling it’s not going to be up for much longer.
Basically, the painfully long ad shows an off-brand Black Lives Matter march going down the street where Kendall Jenner happens to be doing a photoshoot. Because anyone who’s ever been to a protest knows that a closed-off street with hundreds to thousands of people crushed up against each other like sardines, marching along at a snail’s pace while chanting, is the perfect place to shoot some fashion ad.
I mean, this has got to be the weakest protest ever. “Join the conversation”? That’s not a call to action. That would be like if I showed up to the Women’s March like “Hey misogynistic men, can you guys kindly consider giving women equal rights and we can talk about bodily autonomy later? No? OK.”
Here we have Kendall, sporting a blonde wig and some Lala Kent hoops. The hoops are irrelevant but the wig will become important later.
^This is what democracy looks like!
Kendall sees this protest going on all of a sudden—because apparently she hasn’t checked social media in the past week to see all the Facebook event RSVPs, I guess—and gets this look in her eyes that says “What are all those poor people doing down there? Don’t they know inside is where the air conditioning is?”
BUT THEN it all changes when a semi-cute guy with a cello on his back locks eyes with Kendall and gives her The Nod. She rips off her wig, smears her lipstick (the ultimate “fuck you” to the patriarchy) and joins the protestors, while the photographers are like “Bitch WTF you have a job to do, we get paid by the hour.” Kendall doesn’t care, though—she’s got a movement to join!
She makes her way to the front and grabs a Pepsi on the way—because all protests come equipped with buckets of free Pepsi on ice—and greets a line of police officers with an ice-cold can of Pepsi.
And just like that, we solved the issue of police brutality, guys! Kendall turns back to the protestors, who are all cheering her on for her heroic act of bravery. And to think, all those policemen who killed unarmed people of color were just thirsty! Can we add that we all know that if there was one soda to unite us all, it would be Diet Coke? Anyway. Everybody is happy, and one of the police officers definitely thinks he’s gonna fuck Kendall later. You can tell because he turns to his police buddy and gives him the following look:
If that doesn’t say “I’m SO gonna hit that,” then I don’t know what does.
The whole plot of the commercial is very questionable, but for Pepsi to think someone like Kendall Jenner would be the right person to convey their pseudo-social justice message in the first place is more than a little alarming. Like, they could’ve easily used that cute Muslim girl with the head covering, but instead she was basically just Kendall’s adoring fan with a chunky video camera from the late 90s.
What’s really the most laughable, though, is that the face of this “movement,” Kendall Jenner, is a rich white reality TV star with a questionable blonde wig—sound like anyone we know? IRL Kendall is probably not mad about the tax breaks she’ll be getting as a super rich person, and she definitely has never had to worry about the police getting up in her business for no reason (let alone worrying about not making it out of that interaction alive… but OK yeah you’re right I’ll leave that part to Salon). In fact, the only “protest” she’s been spotted at was that one year when the Chanel show was protest themed. It’s v unclear how the people at Pepsi thought this would go over well, but someone is definitely gonna lose their job over this.
Bottom line? Kendall’s a cute girl, but she’s clearly not the one who should be starring in commercials that are supposed to make any sort of political statement. At least leave that to Shailene Woodley or something. And also Diet Coke is far superior to Pepsi and we’re very offended that Kendall would imply otherwise. That’s all.