The presidential election is less than a year away and we recently had local elections. It has always been important for people to exercise their right to vote but now more than ever it’s necessary for people to truly understand the reason why they should be voting. If seeing all the messages through the media is not enough, maybe a “black bus” will do the trick. We recently spoke with co-founder and executive director of Black Voters Matter, Cliff Albright, about the black vote in 2020, what men of color around the country are concerned with and the “blackest bus in America.”
What is the Black Voters Matters Fund?
The Black Voters Matter Fund is a 501 C4 organization, which was created a couple of years ago right before the Alabama Senate race between Doug Jones and Roy Moore. Fundamentally, we are a power building organization, not a voting organization or just an electoral organization. We believe in building power in black communities rooted in southern states, but not exclusively in southern states. The way that we do that is by partnering with local groups and starting with the premise that black-led organizing infrastructure exists in every state that we go to even deeply red southern states. Then we travel around to cities, towns, and counties, and often to places that a lot of other folks don’t go to or know exist. We find who’s doing good work and we partner with them, support with financial resources, strategy, tools and we help them do the good work that they do 365 days out of the year which oftentimes involves electoral work, but sometimes involve other aspects of racial justice organizing.
What is the Southern Bus Tour and why is it called “the blackest bus in America?”
[Laughs] It’s the blackest bus in America for a couple of reasons. One because it’s literally black [laughs]. It’s black from bumper to bumper so you can’t miss it when it comes driving through a county of population 10,000. But it’s also black in terms of like what it represents. We’ve got images on the bus of crowds holding black fists in the air. We’ve got our Black Voters Matter logo and a map of the states that we’ve been to. We also have the words POWER and LOVE, which are words that people often think are opposites. But in our organizing, as Dr. King pointed out, they’re far from opposites actually compliments that have to go together.
Your recent tour stops were Louisiana, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama and Virginia. Why those states?
Every year we go all over. We are finishing out 2019. The reason we’re doing those during these final four or five weeks is because in each of those states, there are some major elections that are taking place. In Mississippi, you’ve got state legislative races all across the state as well as statewide races including a black woman running for attorney general. In Virginia, there were just legislative races all across the state and we all know from two years ago how close the Virginia legislature is. Literally it comes down to one seat and in some cases even one vote [laughs]. You got that going on in Georgia. We were just in Tennessee a couple of weeks ago and we were involved in municipal races. In Montgomery, Alabama where we were with Rickey Smiley on the bus. We played a major part in that city now electing its first Black mayor. So, it’s not just about the top of the ticket, it’s about these local races.
You’ve been all over the country. What are you hearing from men of color?
It’s interesting. We tell people all the time that one of the most consistent issues that we hear especially with men especially with black men is this issue of criminal justice and criminal justice reform. That’s of all ages but even more so I think sometimes with younger voters in general and younger black men in particular. The issue of criminal justice, over-policing of fines and fees; that’s something that black men resonate with.
Cliff Albright, Co-Founder and Executive Director of The Black Voters Matter Fund
How important is the black vote in 2020?
It’s crucial. I think that one of the challenges and one of the frustrations is the other side understands how critical it is more than the folks that say they’re on our side. By that what I mean, the folks that are working hard to suppress our votes, are being much more efficient [laughs] and putting much more resources into it than the folks that say that they want to protect our voting rights.
Ari Berman said in his book Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America, that voter depression was the most underreported story of the 2016 election cycle and that’s something that I didn’t need Ari Berman to say, I say it all the time. To this day, three years after the fact, people are still looking back and trying to understand what happened in 2016. They are having all kinds of discussions and talks about all kinds of issues, demographics, white working-class voters, white rural voters and all of that. Except for the fact this was the first presidential election since the gutting of the Voting Rights Act. So, the other folks understand that and they implemented an extreme strategy.
How can people get involved with the Black Voters Matter Fund?
We have lots of ways that people can get involved. As I said, we do most of our work with our local partners, but there are aspects of our work that can be done from anywhere by anybody. We do texting campaigns, we do virtual phone bank campaigns where somebody sitting in Maine or California can get a list of voters and make phone calls or send texts or send postcards. We’ve got groups from all over the country that did postcard campaigns where we would send them lists of voters and they would address the cards and send them out. So, there are things that folks can do from all over and of course, donations to our group are healpful. But in terms of actual work, there are things that folks can do no matter where they are and anybody who wants to get connected can go to our website BlackVotersMatterFund.org.
People can sign up to get updates on our work on the website and also connect with us on social media on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Everyone who follows us can contribute to our work simply by sharing and forwarding our updates, articles and videos. To successfully build power within our communities, we have to shift the narrative about our communities, and anyone who believes in our mission can help us do that.