By Cassandra Drumond

At the core of America’s Democratic system lies voting. We have seen historic voting turnouts for people of color whose participation proved decisive in the 2020 election and in Georgia’s senate runoff.

Judith A. Brown Dianis, executive director of the Advancement Project, who was awarded the Prime Movers Fellowship for trailblazing social movements, was named one of the thirty women to watch by Essence magazine. She explains, “The Advancement Project is a national racial justice organization, which works with grassroots community organizations to eliminate structural racism. In the area of voting, we work for voter protection, redistricting, and restoring voting rights for people with felony convictions. We are lawyers, communicators and movement builders, and have been around since 1999. What is concerning is we are seeing state lawmakers proposing additional requirements for voting and most of these new restrictions affect communities of color. In Georgia, for example, there is a proposal to eliminate no excuse absentee voting, requiring photo id to obtain a ballot, outlawing drop boxes, and scrapping a court agreement to tell voters about signature problems, also known as curing. That is a way to restrict access to voting and making it less convenient for voters. For us at the Advancement Project, we know the right to vote does not explicitly live in the Constitution and what we hope is that the right to vote is acknowledged in the Constitution, so it is treated the way the first amendment is treated.”

Dr. Gabriela D. Lemus has served as the senior advisor to Secretary of Labor Hila S. Solis, and in January of 2013, was confirmed by the DC Council to sit on the Board of Trustees of the University of the District of Columbia, HBCU. Lemus is a long-time activist in social justice causes and is chair of Mi Familia Vota education fund, which increased Latino political power via mobilization and education. Lemus explains, “In this year we did the work in ten states. We also work in swing states, where concentration of Latino is strong and growing, and where there are gaps in organizing. We have learned there has to be long term engagement to get people to turn out and vote. When we reach out into communities, we know resources are rarely adequate. We have been doing the work for over 20 years and we know there are people who have not voted at all. We know the Latino community has digital divide issues and they access the internet via cell phones and not so much on the computer. The Latino community makes up 13% of all eligible voters, which makes them the largest share of non-White voters. Next, we want to take our work to Georgia, where during early voting, almost 80,000 Latinos had voted early in the senate run-offs. And the Monday before the 2020 election about 124,000 Latinos had voted early, according to Emory University. About 50,000 went to polls. This is the group that helped flip the senate seat. It does take many attempts to get people to the polls, they usually have to be contacted three times to get a voting plan established, to have polling information, etc. It takes a lot of collaboration.”

Myrna Perez, director of the Brennan Center’s Voting Rights and Elections Program and lecturer in Law at Columbia Law School explains their role in the 2020 election, “What we did is we pulled off an election in spite of incredibly powerful forces who wanted to stop brown and Black voters from participating. We did it during a global pandemic and an economic crisis. A great deal of change was made in an unordinary amount of time and it was only made because Americans from all walks of life came in and stepped up. We had organizers getting people educated, we had lawyers, sports stars and celebrities encouraging people to have a plan to go vote. The big thing that we learned is that the cracks in our system that impact communities of color every election can impact the broader community as well. We have to make the case for an inclusive and participatory democracy every day. All of our communities deserve a place at the table.”