Young black men everywhere ask me, Why vote? Considering that black male unemployment is nearly double the national average, that black males are unfairly targeted in a bullshit drug war and that politicians rarely keep their word to the black community, it’s a fair question.
My response to them is: I don’t care if you vote; I care that you register. If you’re not registered, you’re less likely to be chosen to serve on a jury. And if you’re not on a jury, how can I be judged by a jury of my peers? This always makes the men I speak with listen. Our rights in this country—free speech, gun ownership, protection from self-incrimination, trial by jury and many more—are weapons against tyranny from our own republic. Once you realize that a vote is a weapon, the ballot suddenly matters as much as freedom of speech and the right to own a gun. And a vote is a powerful weapon.
I vote because my vote, like my knife and my gun (which I carry daily), is a tool for fighting against tyrants and for the betterment of my community. I know it’s effective because after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013, restrictive voter laws popped up across the South. Southern white conservative men push for such laws—from requiring IDs to discourage minorities from voting, to redistricting attempts in places like Texas in order to cripple the minority vote—to help them regain or retain power. If the minority vote didn’t matter, those white men wouldn’t work so hard to stop it.
For the black community, it’s important to point out that voting alone doesn’t help. “Just” voting is like taking blood-pressure medicine and still eating fried chicken. To see an improvement, you also have to change your diet. Just as we have to eat more greens, we also have to focus on getting some green. Why? Because money is the biggest vote changer. We must remain loyal not to parties but rather to the people who will help us. I agree with black author Claud Anderson, who said in a speech, “We must pull out of both parties and vote as an indie bloc that only votes for people that will deliver what we expect to our community.” What we expect are fair goods and services and a say in politics. To make this happen we must patronize our own businesses and use our athletes and entertainers as the investor class. Put simply, if you’re going to order hot wings, buy them from Rick Ross and his Wingstop restaurant so he can put that money behind local politicians and state representatives who push policies that benefit us.
The most important elections in your life are local. Your city council, mayor, school board, county officials and police policies are all voted on locally. In my city, Atlanta, nearly half of all airport-vendor contracts go to black-owned businesses. This is a direct result of actions taken by Maynard Jackson, Atlanta’s first black mayor, who declared that 25 percent of all city contracts must have minority ownership or involvement. This policy came into existence because decades ago Jackson’s grandfather John Wesley Dobbs empowered black voters and then used those votes to influence Atlanta elections. Because of that, I have never known a nonblack mayor in Atlanta, a city with the third-highest number of Fortune 500 companies and a true black middle class. Even with gentrification, black-owned businesses and job hires are up in this chocolate city.
After my community masters the money and after black men get into the voting game, we can affect the courtroom culture that preys on us. No city, town or county with a large black population should be without equal representation on the police force, in the district attorney’s office or on the judge’s bench. Marching won’t change that. Money and votes change that.
Relationships also help fuel change. I don’t care who delivers what the Constitution promises. Frederick Douglass was a Republican; Maynard Jackson was a Democrat. Both are heroes in my household, as are Barack Obama and Ben Carson. (I don’t normally like overly religious politicians, but I do like Ben.) It matters to me that when I approached Senator Bernie Sanders and suggested that I interview him on my barbershop tour, he accepted (as did Republican National Committee press secretary Raffi Williams). When I asked Senator Rand Paul to sit with me, he flaked.
Sanders talked with me—and advanced much further in the election than Paul. That’s not to say I’m a kingmaker, but the young people, especially black men, who saw me interview Sanders got a chance to meet an ally. And in matters of politics, my community needs more allies.
My vote is a weapon for my good and against tyranny, from getting a chance to sit on a jury to making sure Atlanta’s public schools return to greatness. My vote is a tool I will use to positively affect my community. Others like me must realize the power of this weapon—or have it used against them by a political class bought and sold by corporations and the men who own them. My name is Michael Render, and I vote. Try to stop me.
Killer Mike, a member of the hip-hop duo Run the Jewels, is also a solo artist and activist.