Guest op-ed from June Owens, vice chair of the Iowa Democratic Party.
Today in Iowa and across the country, we are celebrating the first-ever National Black Voter Day. While it’s always important for Black folks to make their voices heard at the ballot box, this new reminder to reclaim our community’s political power comes at a particularly crucial time. Here in Iowa, the right to vote is under relentless attack by a Republican Party that is terrified of being held accountable by voters. We are just weeks from the most important election in many of our lifetimes.
Now more than ever, Black voting matters.
National Black Voter Day affirms that our vote is our voice, and that voice must be exercised regularly and vehemently protected at all costs. This especially resonates with me because of my upbringing – from a very young age, I was taught the value and strength of civic participation. My parents grew up in the Jim Crow era south, and they knew all too well about the use of literacy tests and poll taxes as voter intimidation tactics. During my childhood, they taught my siblings and me that voting is a paramount civil liberty that should never be taken for granted. They taught us about the Black Americans who marched, bled, and even died so that Black voters could have an opportunity to cast our ballots at the ballot box.
This message, given to me as a young Black girl growing up in Iowa, was invaluable: Black folks should vote, run for office, and always strive to have a seat at the table.
Voter suppression tactics may look different now than they did when my parents were children. Today, they look like limited early voting locations, bans on absentee drop boxes, lawsuits against pre-filled absentee ballot request forms, attacks on the postal service during a global pandemic, and other tactics that have been deployed by the Iowa GOP and Trump campaign this election cycle. But they are no less malicious in denying access to the most fundamental of American rights: the right to vote.
On this National Black Voter Day, Iowans all across our state are facing these attacks, and it is more important than ever now that we do the work, organize, and march on to protect our right to vote and save our democracy in November.
While the Republican Party is doing everything possible to subvert the will of voters, I am proud to be part of a Democratic Party that knows Black lives matter and empowers and uplifts Black folks. I serve as the First Vice chair of the Iowa Democratic Party, the first Black person to hold this position and to be part of the Iowa delegation to the Democratic National Committee, and I have seen the IDP make enormous strides in its commitment to diversity and inclusion.
Talk is cheap, and too often organizations haven’t put their time and financial resources towards mobilizing communities of color. But since 2016, the IDP has increased diversity in leadership, boosted resources for our 12 constituency caucuses, hired full-time, permanent constituency engagement positions to work with underrepresented communities, and created a paid fellowship program to create opportunities for lower-income or underrepresented young activists to get involved with Democratic politics.
For Iowa’s very first National Black Voter Day, the IDP and the Biden-Harris campaign are holding Black voter engagement events from the Mississippi River to the Missouri River, from rural Iowa to college campuses. Black voters in eight counties will get registered to vote, complete, and return their absentee ballot requests, make a plan to vote and get plugged into their respective Democratic county parties.
Black Voters have come too far to turn back, and we must continue to press forward to lift every voice, not only in presidential election years, but in each and every election. Let this day serve as a reminder that there are no off years for voting and that every vote matters, including and especially Black votes.
by June Owens
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