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Act as if it were possible

A Voter's Guide to the issues and urgencies at stake in the coming election

Values


Fields of Knowledge
  • Comm. Development
  • Health / Sustainability
  • Politics / Economics
  • Social Justice

Organizing Institutions

Slought

Organizers

Aaron Levy, Marina McDougall, Ella Comberg

Opens to public

07/04/2020

On June 23, 2020, mostly Black voters reached the only polling place for all of Louisville, Kentucky, a city of 600,000 residents, only to learn that it had closed. Refusing to acquiesce to yet another effort at voter suppression, these would-be voters banged on the doors of the Kentucky Expo Center shouting "Let us in!" until a court order allowed them to enter and, triumphantly, cast their ballots. This moment, one in the long history of voting while Black in America, evokes the innumerable sacrifices made by prior generations to secure the right to vote, and attests to the innumerable efforts being made to this day to render that right impossible. These committed individuals embody well the spirit of activist Angela Davis's call: You have to act as if it were possible...

As the twin pandemics of racism and COVID-19 ravage our communities, disproportionately harming Black and Brown people, it has become remarkably obvious that so much of this violence derives from failures of the state. The immense pain of witnessing modern-day lynching by the police and mass death due to the novel coronovirus, together with mass unemployment, inhuman and degrading treatment of immigrants at the border, the dismantling of environmental protections, and the President's continual assertions of white supremacy, makes the stakes of the vote as urgent as ever—yet hardly enough.

As we approach the November elections, we feel compelled, in keeping with Angela Davis's message, to do everything we can to change and challenge leadership at every level—as if a better option were possible. As Davis reminds us, we must imagine the impossible all the time. This is to say not just those days when we are protesting in the street, or voting at the ballot box, but in our everyday actions as well. All the time means being at once hopeful and vigilant about creating a future in which our leaders act in solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives, the fight for climate justice, and an end to labor exploitation.

Traditional voting guides often tell you who to vote for. Our Voter's Guide instead asks: what issues and urgencies are at stake in this particular moment? What voices, experiences, and histories are vital to this election? With these questions in mind, we have selected projects from our extensive archive that foreground voices of those most directly impacted by the issues at hand. The guide includes conversations with, among others, historian Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor and artist Devin Allen about the power of photography and protest to address police brutality in Baltimore and beyond; with activist Samantha Fuentes, a survivor of the Parkland school shooting, about gun violence and reform; and with anthropologist Philippe Bourgois and individuals who are homeless, addicted, and impoverished in urban America. The issues raised in these conversations—including racism, mass incarceration, immigration, climate justice, public health, and housing insecurity—reflect concerns intimately familiar to all Americans, and they have only intensified since these projects were first staged.

Here in Philadelphia, the failure of elected officials to safeguard our right to address these issues in public became painfully iconic last month. Peaceful protesters on the Vine Street Expressway, trapped and injured, fled the tear gas of attacking SWAT teams, while the day before, military tanks occupied the Black business corridor along 52nd street, releasing tear gas onto the streets and into people's homes. But we also write from a city where the scale of the uprising has been immense, and where we have seen the possibility of transformation; where progressive organizers and candidates are overtaking long-held seats; and where under-resourced community groups are working in tandem to advance a more just future. The power of justice is profound—if we act as if its achievement is possible.

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"You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time."

⁠— Angela Davis

"I have been beaten, my skull fractured, and arrested more than forty times so that each and every person has the right to register and vote."

⁠— John Lewis

"In order for us as poor and oppressed people to become part of a society that is meaningful, the system under which we now exist has to be radically changed... It means facing a system that does not lend itself to your needs and devising means by which you change that system." ⁠

— Ella Baker