A few weeks ago I was invited to Washington by PolicyLink to participate in a series of discussions about post-election politics. Among the progressive thinktanks PolicyLink is at the forefront in understanding one of the two most pressing demographic realities we have to deal with–the fact that America will soon be a majority-minority nation.[foot]The other is the fact that we're having fewer and fewer children, a dynamic that causes challenges to Social Security.[/foot]
We talked about the electoral consequences of this in my session.
Now I'm not one of those folk urging black people to vote because this is the most important election in our lifetime. Nor am I one of those folk urging black people to vote because the President needs us to have his back. And I am not one of those folk urging black people to vote because someone died that we could do so.
None of these arguments really hold weight. People have been making each of these claims for decades. Even the second one–the same arguments were made when Carter and Clinton were in office. Furthermore it's important to note that not only did people die so we could POTENTIALLY vote, but that in many cases people engaged in a whole host of other political action that had longer-lasting effects. No vote Rosa Parks ever cast was more important than her decision to stay in her seat.
These arguments have the staying power they do because several of us lack political imagination, and possess a weak understanding of political change. And also because it is very difficult to make the institutions we do control open to more radical means of political engagement.
With that said though both voter registration and the act of voting can matter. You can't participate on a jury if you aren't registered to vote–which means that you can't participate in such potentially radical actions as jury nullifications. And you can't vote in progressive change on a local level if you aren't registered.
But the "can matter" part is only really met if voting as an activity has the same type of protections accorded to it as bearing arms does. Which is why I call for the creation of a National Voters Association. The 2nd Amendment doesn't have the strength it does without the power of the National Rifle Association. Such an association would have the purpose of making voting as important a constitutional right as bearing arms. In "The Ballot or the Bullet" Malcolm X argued that whereas the bullet represented the most important single weapon of revolutionary change, the vote represented the most important single weapon of reform. While neither functions in this manner anymore, the vote in this moment in time possesses far more potential than the bullet does. What we need is an institution to bolster it.