On National Voter Registration Day, panelists discussed youth voter turnout and the importance of its impact on the fight for equal rights.
Lexi Bushrod was in the fifth grade when she came home and her parents sat her down to tell her about the Sandy Hook shooting. She graduated high school during the pandemic, less than a month after George Floyd was killed by law enforcement. She completed her first year of college at Howard University completely online.
Bushrod’s story isn’t unlike that of many other youth voters. Today’s young people are tired, disappointed. We’ve been through a lot, but that hasn’t stopped Bushrod, and many other passionate members of Gen Z.
Today, she works toward getting out the youth vote, especially for young Black women, as the Treasurer for Howard University’s chapter of Black Girls Vote.
Bushrod spoke at the Getting out the Vote for Equality Roundtable hosted by the ERA Coalition and the Howard University Political Science Department on Sept. 20, National Voter Registration Day. Joining Bushrod were Dr. Robinson Woodward-Burns, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Zakiya Thomas, President and CEO of the ERA Coalition and Fund for Women’s Equality and Nandi Perry, Director of Diversity, Equity, Belonging and Inclusion of Gen Z for Change.
The conversation focused on youth voter turnout, voting rights, Black female advocacy and the Equal Rights Amendment. Simultaneously, student organizations at American University and Howard University campaigned on college campuses to help students register to vote and inform them about the Equal Rights Amendment.
The movement for the Equal Rights Amendment gained traction in the late 1960s and earned bipartisan support, but efforts were derailed by opposition from business and insurance industry interests under the guise of a public anti-ERA movement led by Phyllis Schlafly. The ERA would guarantee equality on account of sex, and today, the amendment has still not been published — although it has fulfilled all the constitutional requirements to do so.
Our vote is really the only way we’ve seen our voice be taken seriously… I’m tired of not addressing the intersectionality that Black women face, the misogynoir to an extreme extent that we face. It’s their worst fear that we show up.Nandi Perry, Director of Diversity, Equity, Belonging and Inclusion of Gen Z for Change.
In terms of gender equality, “We kind of get an incomplete password, which we saw with the Dobbs decision,” said Dr. Woodward Burns.
“The Equal Rights Amendment could help change that. There’s no guarantee, but it’s a possibility. That’s why I’m here,” added Thomas of her work at the ERA Coalition.
This midterm election season, 36 percent of young Americans report that they will “definitely” be voting, according to data from the Harvard Youth Poll. This figure is on-track to match turnout for the 2018 midterm elections — the speakers on this panel want to break that record.
“Our vote is really the only way we’ve seen our voice be taken seriously. I personally am tired of seeing Black women get robbed of their justice — Breonna Taylor. What’s taking so long? I’m tired of not addressing the intersectionality that Black women face, the misogynoir to an extreme extent that we face. It’s their worst fear that we show up,” said Perry.
The entire panel was adamant that it is critical that young people get out to vote. “We are the youth speaking for the youth,” said Bushrod of her organization, Black Girls Vote at Howard University, which conducts work and community events to encourage voter turnout and awareness.
While encouraging young Black women to vote, Bushrod is also “building a sisterhood among the members and a community.”
Doing so is incredibly important, according to Perry. Not only does this encourage solidarity among Black women, but Perry claims that “The liberation of Black women is liberation for all. They can’t even fathom the idea of all Black women coming together to use their voice…They can’t ignore us at that point.”
When it comes to discussions of civic education and politics, young people are often called apathetic and ignorant. But in response to this notion, Perry asked doubters to “Loop us into conversations. Don’t leave us out of the room. You’re making decisions about people it directly affects, and not getting our input. Put it in our language. Play our game so we can contribute to the conversation.”
Perry also encouraged people to “make a plan” to combat voter suppression. When voters live miles away from their polling place, have to wait in long lines for hours and face other forms of suppression, they should prepare if they have the ability, such as bringing food and water, having a driving buddy, etc.
My vote matters, and if I don’t stand up to take it, no one’s gonna hand it to me and let me do what I need to… if we are representing ourselves, then that takes their power away.Zakiya Thomas, President and CEO of the ERA Coalition
Gen Z for Change, where Perry is the DEBI Director, works for equal rights in many issues, including racial justice, criminal justice, climate change, disability rights and much more. Everyone has a stake in some of these issues, which is why it is so important that voters make their voices heard.
“My vote matters, and if I don’t stand up to take it, no one’s gonna hand it to me and let me do what I need to…if we are representing ourselves, then that takes their power away,” said Thomas of this sentiment.
Following the 2020 Election, #ThankBlackWomen trended on social media for the important work many of them did to elect candidates who advocate for equal rights. The ERA Coalition’s roundtable showed in real time the power that Black women have together to create change, and their organizing that keeps voters enthusiastic and informed every day.
The panelists expressed the burden that this creates, despite the importance of the work. “Black women are the ones taking care of the community and being there for everybody, but nobody’s there to support them,” said Bushrod.
“I have passion behind what I do, and I know I have Black women I can lean on,” she added.