This article was originally published by Rock the Trail.
While youth voting is on the rise, barriers to civic engagement among working-class black youth persist. How are activists going beyond voter registration to break down these barriers? Beyond the Ballot: Young Black Men and Voting
September 4, 2008
Most grassroots organizers are as dedicated to their work as their offices are messy. For Rose Braz, the case is no different. As campaign director for Critical Resistance, she’s part of a national network of grassroots organizers, community members, academics and former prisoners whose mission is as straightforward as it is challenging: to abolish prisons. Her Oakland office is filled with boxes, pamphlets and fliers. During this busy presidential campaign season, hers is one of the few national organizations not organizing directly to get out the vote.
“One in 100 adults are in jail in the United States,” she says. “For young black men between the ages of 20 and 34, that number is one in nine, and we’re surprised that people don’t want to vote?”
Critical Resistance views prisons as merely one part of the equation. The group’s focus is on dismantling what advocates often refer to as the prison-industrial complex — namely, private businesses such as security firms and construction companies that profit from warehousing millions of people with little hope for rehabilitation.
“People are a little defeated,” she says. “The way the prison system is set up, you don’t have to be behind bars to feel disenfranchised.”
Despite record numbers of young and new voters in this historical presidential election, voter disenfranchisement remains an issue for many young black men.
New Voters, Old Barriers
After the Civil War, Congress passed three important pieces of legislation known as the Reconstruction Amendments. The 13th Amendment to the Constitution abolished slavery, the 14th secured the constitutional rights of former slaves and the 15th gave black men the right to vote. Together, these acts helped form the crux of black political participation in America.
President Davies is a direct descendant of this legacy of political aspiration and involvement. The 22-year-old Richmond, California native was born to a mother with lupus, and doctors expected him to suffer from severe mental and physical handicaps. To combat such harsh expectations, his parents chose a powerful name for their newborn son. “There was no name that signified honor and respect more than ‘President’,” he says.