By Kwame Rose
As Baltimore prepares for the trials of the six officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray, city officials are gearing up for potential community backlash in the event that the officers are not convicted. Baltimore Police have their new riot gear and technologies in place to respond to protestors, and politicians are trying hard to gain public appeal during election season. All eyes are on this trial, and there is an unprecedented number of young people working tirelessly to expose the corruption that is Baltimore politics.
Election Day in Baltimore is April 26, the eve of the one-year anniversary of Freddie Gray’s funeral and what become known as the “Baltimore Uprising.” The number of mayoral contenders is growing by the day; there are currently 17 candidates. For those most affected by the institutional corruption inside of City Hall, this election year is arguably a life or death matter. While we’ve heard the “champion of the people” soapbox before, we haven’t seen the follow through that makes that statement more than a broken campaign promise.
In recent weeks, we’ve seen several mayoral candidates demand that the incumbent, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, fire Housing Commissioner Paul Graziano. This was a demand first issued by the #Baltimore32 who occupied City Hall on October 14th. When the demand was first stated, many assumed we were just a group of ill-advised youth for having the audacity to even make the suggestion. Now, recent reports of poor living conditions and allegations of sexual harassment in Baltimore Public Housing, are validating the demand.
It’s critical that the youth of Baltimore continue to make their voices heard. One undeniable way to do that is by going to the polls in unprecedented numbers, and by be the deciding factor to determine who gets to represent us from here on out. Historically, Baltimore has had minimal voter turnout during elections. Only 23% of voters turned out to the last Mayoral election, and that left us with some elected officials who women based on name recognition rather than merit. With this current crowded field, that may be the case yet again.
There’s hope in the fact that more of our city’s young people are actively engaged in trying to create institutional change than ever before and the barber shops are buzzing with conversations about change. Initiatives like Black Girls Vote, a grassroots organization seeking to educate and inspire voting age women, are offering voter registration training and a host of other strategies.
Our mobilization in the streets of Baltimore was only the first step. A year later, the next step is to mobilize to the polls and “takeover” City Hall in a politically meaningful, sustainable way. The politicians who inked the legislation that keeps us marginalized in our own city have to be voted out of office, and we must be the ones to do it.
I personally have never voted. I never believed that my vote mattered, but I’ve come to realize that this is bigger than my one vote. Collectively, we can make a statement. That statement is not just about putting a dent in City Hall, but also about reconstructing what it means to be an elected official. While the powers that be are alarmed whenever we “take it to the streets,” they should be equally scared of us showing up at the polls and casting a vote. If politicians won’t engage us or listen to us, then they don’t have a right to represent us.
April 26, 2016 will be undoubtedly be the next #BaltimoreUprising, as we will prove that #BlackVotesMatter. If you live in Maryland, register to vote today by clicking here.
Kwame Rose is a social activist, hip-hop artist, blogger and speaker. He is best known for having boldly held mainstream media, particularly Geraldo Rivera of Fox News, accountable for its inaccurate representation of protestors during the Baltimore Uprising.