By Ellen McGirt
October 12, 2016

Race and politics are colliding in a fairly spectacular way these days, so let’s go there for a moment.

Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for president, has made discouraging Hillary Clinton voters a centerpiece of his strategy going forward. His version, however, borrows heavily from one of the most vicious tactics known in politics: Voter suppression. Yesterday, an editorial from the Washington Post called it what it is:

“With Donald Trump’s polling numbers in a tailspin, he has doubled down in calling on Republican vigilantes to take matters into their own hands to thwart what many of them are primed to regard, without proof, as a rigged election. The Republican nominee’s rhetoric, inciting white rural and suburban voters who fear the voting clout of black urban Democrats, is a recipe for voter intimidation and even violence on Election Day.”

Voter suppression tactics have been resurfacing in legislation nationwide since 2013 after the Supreme Court repealed certain provisions of the Voting Rights Act. (There’s a terrific article on the history of voter suppression here.) These laws don’t cut out swaths of voters entirely. They just put confusing, annoying and faceless bureaucratic obstacles in the path of otherwise legitimate voters, who are typically too under-resourced to fight the system for long. (See: Getting a photo ID is easy unless you’re poor, black, Latinx or elderly.)

One piece of legislation, North Carolina’s omnibus voter suppression law, was so filled with restrictions targeting poor communities of color, it earned the nickname the “monster law.” It was overturned in federal court last July. It “target[s] African Americans with almost surgical precision,” said the court.

Legislating voter suppression is personal. It feels like your country has turned its back on you. But that Trump is asking regular people to confront other voters at the polls is even worse. And that kind of intervention never ends well.

But his literal rallying cry also got me thinking about other ways people can be asked to intervene that might unite, not divide.

I got some inspiration from Blair Taylor, a former Starbuck’s bigwig who now runs the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance (MBKA), a corporate-sponsored, non-profit group that taps big business and community leaders to help young men of color find jobs. But their work is really about bringing people into society, not shutting them out – creating future executives, shareholders and, of course, voters in the process. The work makes everybody better.(We reported on one MBKA job fair here. Check it out, and you’ll see what I mean.)

I spoke with Taylor yesterday as he was updating reporters on MBKA news, including their participation in a student forum with President Obama at North Carolina A&T State University (see below for more.) My question was more broad: What did he think young men of color needed to succeed?

His answer, ironically, was the same as Trump’s. It’s you. “This really [has to be] a bottom-up effort.” He talked about how young men of color often lead complicated lives but are resilient in hidden ways. Working together, communities –mayors, business leaders, faith leaders, law enforcement, everybody – can determine what’s holding them back. His job, he says, is to support the innovations that come from communities and share them in the form of best practices with others. “The answers are always there, always local,” he says. “When you remove barriers, communities transform themselves.”

If it’s your job to think about diversity and inclusion, then removing barriers is your obsession. But most regular folks could benefit from a little extra reflection on who gets a vote and why. Where do you want to live or work? In a community that prevents certain people from weighing in, or one that believes that when everybody plays, everybody wins?


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