The first time I ever saw a voting booth, my father carried me on his hip, letting me punch the ballot and wear his “I Voted” sticker home with pride. In every election since my 18th birthday, I have performed some combination of our family’s traditional tasks, supporting registration and participation efforts, educating myself on local ballot measures and candidate stances, voting early on Election Day, and proudly wearing that same sticker. Under normal circumstances, 2016 would simply have been more of the same.
These, however, are not normal circumstances. This presidential election has been unlike any other. It has defied every political tradition and flies in the face of normal political engagement. It is not normal. It is not a joke. This is not a statement of fear, but of fact: This year, the risks are greater, the threats to continued progress more real. We cannot allow the gender and racial violence ushered in to be validated by a White House win.
We must wrestle with what it means to advantage our issues as best we can as we enter into the next administration. As we necessarily continue to mount outside pressure, we must build our power within the voting booth, showing up as people of color, and people who care about people of color, in strong numbers that ensure we are allocated the time and resources we are due.
But we must also leverage that same power far beyond a single day. Our lives are on the ballot: Thoughtful strategy, inside and outside, helps us to keep striving for the radical dream and to keep taking the urgent, intentional actions that help people live better lives in the here and now.
Change happens when we show up and seize our power.
To create the change we seek, we must advantage our issues in every way possible, and pursue them to the end. Advantaging our issues means putting the right person in office on Nov. 8—and even with the rightful, long-term aspiration for more alternatives, the fact is that one of two people will occupy the Oval Office.
But making real gains on our issues will require our continued engagement on Nov. 9 and every day thereafter. To be effective, that engagement must come both from those who provide clear outside pressure on important social issues and those of us who act as critical friends, always honest in our dealings and ready to work on the inside to press the policy front.
The latter should not be dismissed as just one of many necessary tactics: Despite pressure I personally received not to participate in the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing, the very call from protesters in Ferguson, Mo., for independent investigations and prosecutors is a recommendation that the task force secured in its final report (pdf) because we did, indeed, participate. The Department of Justice’s recent decision to ensure an independent investigation in the killing of Eric Garner in New York City found some of its cover in that very report. Though the rate of change is often slow and the process arduous, participation matters in keeping the work moving forward.
It is important to remember that the change we seek is vast, extending far beyond policing issues. Police violence is the branch of a tree rooted in systemic racism and oppression. The goal is to uproot the tree and grow something else in its place.
As a radical pragmatist, I believe in dreaming radically and acting purposefully. I believe that this revolutionary dream is attainable—as long as we take deliberate, continual strides toward our goals.
To do that, our work as engaged citizens doesn’t begin and end on Nov. 8. It will require us showing up on Nov. 9, and on more than a single issue.
Our freedom is on the ballot. Shining a bright light on the heinous effects of the 1994 crime bill was necessary. Public pressure resulted in greater commitments and a more robust criminal-justice platform from Hillary Clinton—commitments to which we must hold her accountable. Donald Trump, on the other hand, has offered nothing short of a police state, proposing a nationwide adoption of stop and frisk—a practice proved altogether ineffective, racist and unconstitutional.
From there, we must push the next administration to increase accountability for individual police officers, encourage implementation of proven policy, restrict militarization and make funding conditional on proper police actions.
Our bodies are on the ballot. Clinton has said that “weapons of war have no place in our streets.” This must be as true in issues of gun control as it is in the streets of Ferguson—and as it is for Standing Rock reservation in Cannon Ball, N.D. The next administration must take urgent action to stop the destruction of sacred land and the assault on the Native citizens who protest against it, and do much more to fulfill America’s treaty duties to our First Nations.
Our children are on the ballot. Across this country, important strides have been taken to provide better education and stronger access to children of color—all while they are struck with fear through the rhetoric of one candidate. The next administration must expand early childhood, decrease college expenses and incentivize culturally responsive education to empower the same young people the Republican candidate strikes fear into.
Our lives are on the ballot. We must refuse to let harm befall the myriad social issues on which we have seen critical progress in the past few years—marriage equality, access to health care, security for “DACAmented” citizens—and secure those fundamental rights under threat: a woman’s right to choose, and our continued access to the voting booth.
I don’t believe in any one person’s or one party’s ability alone to secure the future we deserve. I believe in the power of the people to get us there. Show up on Nov. 8 to make your choice—to build our power. Then show up on Nov. 9, in all of our power, to build the world we want.
Brittany Packnett is an educator and activist from St. Louis. She was a Ferguson, Mo., protester and remains active in the national protest movement. She is co-founder of Campaign Zero and sat on President Obama's Task Force for 21st Century Policing. She recently shared her personal support for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 candidacy.