Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

Under the light of Black Lives Matter movement, students consider the weight they hold as the youth vote for the upcoming 2020 Presidential election.

October 7, 2020

Cornellians Reflect on Sustaining Protests, Making Change and Getting Out the Vote

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The summer’s nationwide Black Lives Matter’s protests led Cornell students to recognize the gravity of youth voting, while also emphasizing an important reality: There’s still an immeasurable amount of work to be done.

With the recent police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and numerous BIPOC individuals, many have described an overarching sense of purpose and frustration exemplified in BLM protests across the country. Ithaca’s was no different.

Solomon Lawrence ’21, treasurer of Cornell’s Caribbean Students’ Association, was among hundreds who participated in the BLM protest that began in Ho Plaza and culminated in front of the Ithaca Police Department in late August.

“A lot of people have been saying that there’s something new or something different happening at a lot of these protests,” Lawrence said, speaking to the overall sense of exhaustion and disappointment that has sparked the ubiquitous nature of the movement.

Four hours away in New York City, Lotoya Francis ’22 noticed this distinct and newfound energy at the BLM events she was attending, citing a larger white presence, a more significant insistence of radical ideas and an increased focus on intersectionality — three elements that were somewhat missing at protests she had attended in years prior.

Among these new messages and developments, a more recent, outstanding demand has been prevalent — vote.

Though this request is not necessarily new, many argue that it has been particularly accentuated this year, potentially due to the ongoing energy of the movement.

“I think [BLM protests] definitely did bring to the forefront the fact that voting is a political tool that we must use,” Daniel James II ’22, creator of the “Black Voices on the Hill” podcast, said. “I think that voting is just as important as the protest, because the protest is what sends out your messaging.”

Discussing the influence voting can hold during a time at which so much is at stake for many marginalized groups, James encouraged individuals to cast their ballots.

“This is not a matter of who we like or dislike,” he said. “This is a matter of securing the freedoms for Black, Indigenous, people of color, minority populations in general and the freedoms that we have worked so hard to gain.”

The power that comes from participating in political activism — whether it be through petitioning, campaigning, organizing or other forms of advocacy — has proven successful in a number of circumstances, from BLM protests to Cornell’s campus.

For example, Lawrence said student appeals for canceling athletic practices and training on Election Day have yielded fairly promising results. A member of the track and field team, Lawrence explained that his coaches have been adequately responsive to demands made by students, encouraging athletes to safely vote and to participate in demonstrations that allow their voices to be heard.

And with the formation of groups like Cornell Votes this fall, a sense of urgency to vote has grown around campus, as has people’s willingness to become active in other disciplines such as politics and inequality, according to Lawrence.

“It seems like the engineering folks I know on my team … they’re even talking about voting, or they’re talking about politics a little bit more,” Lawrence said. “To get them to have a conversation more about social injustice is really good.”

Beyond voting, students have taken to social media campaigning to amplify their voices in an unprecedented way.

This new form of political action may be partially attributed to the idea that voting can be immensely difficult for the BIPOC community and for minority populations across the nation. With the prevalence of voter suppression, white supremacy, gerrymandering and other forms of injustice, voting often elicits a sense of frustration and dissatisfaction among BIPOC individuals.

Francis said that she has met many people who don’t want to vote because of such obstacles.

“It’s really critical to consider how far we’ve really come if the idea of possibly being physically harmed by going to the polls is something that will actually deter communities of color from voting in person,” she said.

Within the prevalent and ongoing hardships faced by the BIPOC population in the political framework, James spoke to the unwavering resiliency of this community to affect change.

“Let me tell you one thing we’re not: we’re not complacent,” he said. “And we’re defiant against white supremacist power.”