Electeds who represent #BlackLivesMatter

A few weeks ago, voters in Ferguson, Missouri took to the polls with the fatal shooting shooting of 18-year old Michael Brown looming large in their minds. The result was historic. Voter participation tripled, propelling two African Americans, Ella Jones and Wesley Bell, to city council seats, effectively boosting black representation in the city. The outrage caused by Brown’s death was successfully channeled into electoral action, but for the many young people who saw the protests in Ferguson and elsewhere as a symbol of youth empowerment, the victories left something to be desired.

To be sure, the energy brought by the broad coalition of young people--black, white, Latino, and Asian--was integral to the activism that catalyzed the changes in Ferguson. Youth groups were on the ground protesting fervently in Ferguson. Unrelenting in the challenges they posed to the status quo, young people also took to Twitter, Facebook, and other social media outlets to raise awareness about the injustices happening in Ferguson and elsewhere, in an effort to make sure these shootings stayed in the nation's consciousness. The concert of #HandsUp #WeCantBreathe #IamTrayvonMartin, #Crimingwhilewhite, #BlackLivesMatter formed the collective that thrusted Ferguson and policing in minority communities into a national and global spotlight. Young people also did more than their fair share in registering people to vote in Ferguson, as well as turning out the vote.

But for all the youth involvement in reconstructing Ferguson, the elections were somewhat of an anti-climax. Not one young person under 35 was on the ballot for city council. This means that, while young people fought to change the policies that gave rise to the conditions surrounding Michael Brown's death, the youth voice will still be missing when police brutality and other issues that largely concern young people of color are discussed in city hall.

This is not to say that Jones and Bell, who are both over 40, will not be as effective in their office with regards to young people of color in Ferguson, or even that a white person cannot be an effective advocate on matters that affect people of color. Young people of color, however, simply have a unique perspective on a variety of issues that their older and non-minority counterparts lack, a perspective that is valuable in the policymaking process when it comes to proposing fresh ideas and initiatives and creating meaningful change in issue areas such as local law enforcement.

Young people absent from the policymaking table as they were in Ferguson is not something new. This continues to happen all across our country. Recruiting and endorsing promising young candidates to run for office is seldom discussed in electoral politics.

But there are organizations seeking to change that. LaunchProgress PAC, for instance, helps elect the young people who will provide the unique perspectives that we need in our politics and government. Last year, they endorsed five first-time candidates under 35 that are now elected officials who are leading on policies that positively affect not only young people, but all Americans. Cecil Brockman, a new state representative from North Carolina, for example, is sponsoring a bill that will require police to wear body cameras to protect all parties involved in interactions with police, and state representative Stephanie Chang is fighting for more worker protections in Michigan by standing up for paid sick leave.

Young people are often at the forefront  pressing our city councils, state legislatures, and Congress to have dialogues on important issues such as police brutality. But big money and establishment politics dissuade many young people from running for office and, as a result, exclude them from the policymaking process. We want young people of color who want to make a positive change in their communities to be aware that resources such as LaunchProgress exist. And to prevent more tragedies such as the one that happened in Ferguson--and the killing of 25-year-old Freddie Gray in Baltimore--we need to support young candidates of color and ensure they win.

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.