All of us are tired of hearing that we’re living in unprecedented times — whether that’s because the phrase has been tremendously overused in 2020, or because perhaps it’s actually erroneous (what times are, after all, precedented?). Either way, we may not be done talking about the shitshow that is this year, but we are pretty sick of talking about the supposed novelty of it all.
Instead, let’s talk about something that has risen in visibility and tension this year, but is by no means, an unprecedented issue in the United States: the institutionalized racism and violence against Black Americans. And more specifically how methods of getting voters to the polling booths must be creative, appealing, and yes, maybe even actually unprecedented.
Nearly a whole term in, it’s old news that white women elected Donald Trump in an incredible spectacle that demonstrated the truly white nature of mainstream feminism.
“Polls show 94 percent of black women — the highest percentage in the nation — voted for Hillary Clinton, as did 69 percent of Latinas,” The Undefeated reported in December of 2016. “And where were most white feminists when women of color, lesbians and transgender women were marching in the streets to protest police shootings, and other issues important to nonwhite, or non-middle-class women?”
The disparity along race lines is also a well-trod issue within feminism, but the last four years of a Trump administration have not only demonstrated wide gaps in equity — especially with protests demanding a resounding enough! over the murders of unarmed Black folks, the number of which was reported to be 164 and rising in the first eight months of 2020 — but also a lack of support for intersectional issues that face feminists of color*.
The 2020 Presidential Election is one of the most important elections in our nation’s history, with hundreds of thousands of lives on the line between coronavirus-related death tolls, the murders of unarmed citizens of color, and the concentration camps at the US-Mexico border.
“After a first term in which Trump has openly defied Congress and the courts, twisted foreign policy to serve his political interests, dismissed electoral norms, and turned a terrified Republican Party into his plaything, his return to power would, in effect, legitimize the gutting of the institutions of law and what remains of the founders’ checks and balances.
Reelection would vindicate his view that as president he can, as Trump said, ‘do whatever I want.’ It would all but destroy, in other words, the American conceit that the United States is a different kind of democracy than has existed in the past, leaving the country as just another abject discard on the ash heap of failed republics going back to ancient Rome and Greece.” — Foreign Policy, September 2020.
And with such incredible stakes, the Biden-Harris camp needs to rally supporters from communities whose votes not only make all the difference, but whom are also some of the most directly impacted demographics in the nation: Black folks. And specifically, Black men.
Shortly after the 2016 election, the Pew Research Center reported that Black voter turnout fell in the polls (right as white women were coming in to stand by their man—their man being everyone’s least favorite presidential reality television star, against whom some of the most memorable burns by the Golden Girls were hurled):
- The black voter turnout rate declined for the first time in 20 years in a presidential election, falling to 59.6% in 2016 after reaching a record-high 66.6% in 2012. (It’s also the largest percentage-point decline among any racial or ethnic group since white voter turnout dropped from 70.2% in 1992 to 60.7% in 1996.)
- The number of black voters also declined, falling by about 765,000 to 16.4 million in 2016, representing a sharp reversal from 2012.
- With Barack Obama on the ballot that year, the black voter turnout rate surpassed that of whites for the first time.
- Among whites, the 65.3% turnout rate in 2016 represented a slight increase from 64.1% in 2012.
So it should come as no surprise that, when considering creative ways to get disenfranchised voters to the polling places this season, Black voters are some of the most sought-after demographics in the voting pool.
Despite the endorsement from Kanye West (although conflicting news reports have since said that the two are on the outs) and other Black celebrities (ugh, I want more from you Stacey Dash), support for Trump amongst Black communities has always been a little touch-and-go (with a 9% reported spike in support in communities of color during the Republican National Convention).
As such, places with high populations of voters of color, like Atlanta, have been taking matters into their own hands — by making voting sexy.
“Strippers are making it rain with election ballots in a new ad aimed at convincing Black men to vote. The ad campaign, which is called “Get Your Booty to the Poll,” is attempting to translate the cultural influence of strippers into political power…” wrote Otillia Steadman, of Buzzfeed.
“A summer of protests against police violence and systemic anti-Black racism has placed renewed importance on state and local elections, where much of the decision-making power on issues like police reform resides. “You know it’s more than just the president on the ballot, right?” asks a dancer named Nikki in the ad.
“A district attorney decides who to prosecute,” says another dancer named Imani.
“Can’t make it rain if you’re locked up on some bullshit.” Malone told BuzzFeed News: “People felt like their vote — mostly Black people that I was having conversations with — felt like their votes were not gonna be counted. They felt like they were not represented, that whatever was going on in government, that whatever was on the table, whatever was being considered, whatever was being put into place had nothing to do with them. … This has been the Black experience for many elections.”
Former sex workers like Cardi B have also been vocal in encouraging voters to “take power” following the murder of George Floyd. “I feel like I have done videos against police brutality, I feel like this is like my seventh time. I feel I’ve been doing police brutality videos ever since my teeth been fucked up — and the only shit that changed has been my fucking teeth. People are tired of showing that it’s like: ‘Oh, motherfuckers are educated and could take “the grown and adult way” and act peaceful.’ People are tired of that, so now this is what people have to resort to.” — NME, June 2020
Cardi then told her followers that another way for “the people to take power… is by voting”.
What’s particularly incredible about this as a tactic is the fact that sex work has a notoriously/historically rocky place within the theorectical constructs of feminism, and feminist leaders, politicians, celebrities, and public figures have been called out in the past for espousing anti-sex worker rhetoric (oh hey, Kamala Harris). This tactic, if it proves successful, particularly for voters who vote Democrat, would credit sex workers with saving the entire fucking election.**
“Get Your Booty to the Polls” was created by Angela Barnes, a Black director based in Atlanta, out of a desire to respond to the killings this summer through a visible message that extends beyond protesting in the streets.
“I couldn’t just stay at home,” Barnes told BuzzFeed News. “I needed to do something because my children’s lives — it feels like my children’s lives are in danger…They’re Black boys in a country that has no values for Black men, so I don’t want them to grow up in a country that doesn’t serve them.”
She didn’t work alone, however. She brought in the talent of Paul Fox, a producer, as well as an organization called the Black Male Voter Project. The founder of the BMVP, Mondale Robinson, acknowledged that standard tactics for engaging voters and getting the vote out, failed Black men.
“People are sporadic voters not because they’re lazy or whatever, they’re sporadic voters because we don’t invest in them. We have to acknowledge that voting is a habit that’s created by resources spent on it,” Robinson said.
The video, which is bipartisan in nature (it doesn’t endorse a single candidate or agenda), acknowledges the fact that elected officials and lobbyists have exhausted their ability to reach voters of color. And while candidates don’t really need to be sexy in order to get votes (though it wouldn’t hurt, I guess), whomever is elected in 2020 will have a tremendous amount of responsibility on their hands; getting people to cast their ballots by appealing to their personal interests is a tried-and-true method of creating systemic change.
*on the media front, it should be noted that the FX show Mrs. America, which dives into the story behind the movement to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, also thought to include narrative threads about racial tension between movement leaders, and the disgraceful treatment of Shirley Chisholm by her feminist co-matriats. As a New Literacies scholar, I’m always thrilled when media representation extends beyond the paltry stories of white saviorism and heteronormativity, it’s not without mentioning that said representation can often feel like a too-little-too-late bone thrown to the audience as a nod to political and cultural awareness on the parts of the creators. Still, I’ll take as much Shirley Chisholm, and Uzo Aduba, as I can get.
** proving that sex workers, once again, shouldn’t have to save the world, but sure rise to the challenge when the world needs saving.