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The right to vote is about real power

Hon. Tommy Stallworth

Every American deserves to be respected and reflected by their government. The right to vote is about the ability to be seen and heard by people who make consequential decisions that impact your life, your family and your community. It’s about real power. Right now, in Detroit — one of the Blackest cities in America — there is an effort underway funded by a group of nakedly partisan activists to strip away that power and deny people their fundamental, constitutional right to representation.

In 2018, Michiganders voted overwhelmingly to establish an independent citizens redistricting commission and redraw the state’s House and Senate districts. In the first election with those new, fair maps in 2022, Democrats won the statehouse and state senate after 40 years of Republican gerrymandering.

All the work that happened in 2023 proved what happens when you have a legislature that respects and reflects the people — the people win. Led by Joe Tate (D-Detroit), the first Black speaker of the House, Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids), the first woman Senate majority Leader, and Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing), the first Black woman to chair the Senate Appropriations Committee in Michigan history, the Michigan Legislature and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer delivered tangible results. With this new, more representative majority under the leadership of multiple Black committee chairs, they cut taxes for working-class families to lift 25,000 kids out of poverty, built more housing, delivered free breakfast and lunch for every student and made a range of other investments in Michigan’s greatest resource — its people.

Now, all that progress is at risk. There is an effort underway to force the redrawing of some of those districts. While that effort may be couched in official-sounding legalese and seemingly comes from a sincere place, it is motivated by one thing: power. The lawsuit to redraw these maps is being led by John Bursch, a man most famous for his repeated attempts to erase the rights and freedoms of fellow Michiganders. He is the Beetlejuice of conservative movements, appearing in lawsuits to strip away basic LGBTQ+ rights, gut workers’ right to organize, and use public money to fund private schools.

Now, Bursch is once again on the forefront of a power grab backed by well-funded interest groups who want to prevent the Democratic majority in the Michigan Legislature from doing their jobs. They can dress it up any way they want, but their end goal is the same as it has been for people throughout American history who have stood on the floor of the United States Senate and across bridges in Selma: to take power away from you.

They are counting on your cynicism. They want you to look away and be discouraged from exercising your political power going forward. They hope that you will be discouraged from showing up and exercising your power to build a government that looks like and fights for you.

Do not let them win.

As we approach Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 95th birthday, we must carry on his mission. While his movements for civil rights and voting rights were successful, he is no longer with us, but those who seek to deny us the ability to make consequential decisions about our lives, families, and communities still are. On voting rights, King once said, “The denial of this sacred right is a tragic betrayal of the highest mandates of our democratic tradition.”

Our task is simple: Do not look away. We must continue fighting their efforts to appease us with symbolic representation and work together to build real political power that delivers lasting change. Let’s keep fighting for our sacred right.

Hon. Tommy Stallworth is the former chair of the Michigan Legislative Black Caucus and Detroit Caucus. This post was originally published on Michigan Chronicle.