“Your vote is precious, almost sacred. It is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have to create a more perfect union.” – John Lewis
Today, we celebrate the importance of the Black vote, recognizing the first-ever National Black Voter Day. It is meant to aid Black U.S. citizens with the right resources and tools to help stave off potential suppression tactics and ensure that our votes count in the November election.
This year, long-standing social inequities in our country have left Black communities disproportionately impacted by the public health crises plaguing our nation: COVID-19 and police brutality. Ballots encompass a vast array of issues that must be addressed to ensure progress in our community. In August, Levi Strauss & Co.’s Black Employee Resource Group, Project Onyx –comprised of 150 Black employees and allies – made Black voter engagement a priority for this year to ensure our voices count.
The power of the Black vote
Black voters have the power to swing an election – in 2012, for example, Black voters came out in a big way. Exit polls revealed that while Black citizens made up 12% of the census demographics nationwide, Black voters accounted for 13% of the total votes cast in the general election, an historic 66.6% voter turnout. And yet in 2016, Black voter turnout declined for the first time in 20 years. With the 2016 election decided by just thousands of votes in many states, it’s clear that Black voters showing up can make a difference.
Low Black voter registration and turnout are often caused by both personal and structural issues. “Structural racism influences voting in more direct ways,” our CEO, Chip Bergh, acknowledged in a recent Fortune op-ed. “During the recent primary season, Wisconsin, Georgia, and Kentucky closed numerous polling places in minority-heavy districts, forcing residents to travel farther and wait for hours, at increased risk because of the coronavirus pandemic. Eligible voters have been disenfranchised in purges of voting rolls in several states.”
Many states have significant histories of voter disenfranchisement – a fact that has spurred the creation of National Black Voter Day.
Project Onyx is hosting an array of employee activations focused on voter engagement and the importance of the Black vote. This will include distributing voter education resources and connecting with other members of our community by encouraging them to register and vote early, by mail or on November 3.
LS&Co. is supporting the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition’s Fines and Fees Campaign, which is raising money to ensure the 1.4 million formerly incarcerated citizens in Florida can vote. The criminal justice system in Florida – like that of the United States – disproportionally impacts the Black community.
These efforts build upon the momentum of LS&Co. and the Levi Strauss Foundation, which together have invested $2.6 million 20 voting rights and engagement organizations in the United States. These groups – many of them led by grassroots leaders of color – support the activation of all citizens in the democratic process, the registration of new voters and the removal of barriers to voting in marginalized communities.
Some of the organizations we are supporting include Live Free, which is reaching 1 million voters via churches and colleges; Black Futures Lab, which harnesses the power of millions in the Black community to influence the way power operates–locally, statewide and nationally; She the People, which is working to transform democracy by turning one million non-voters into voters; and Black Voters Matter Capacity Building Institute, which is reaching millions of Black voters through civic engagement.
Learn more about how to support Black voters in your community by checking out LS&Co.’s partner organizations. And be sure to tune in to Levi’s® Use Your Voice Live today at 12 p.m. Pacific Time from the brand’s Instagram to hear from Desmond Meade, leader of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition who will be talking about how you can help pay the fines and fees for formerly incarcerated citizens in Florida. He will be joined by NBA’s All-Time Leading scorer and Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipient, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
In honor of Black Voter Day, if you’re not registered to vote yet, this a great time to stand up for the issues impacting your community and get registered.