Organizer LaTosha Brown discusses politics, voter suppression

LaTosha Brown, organizer and co-founder of the Black Voters Matter Fund, addressed the Tufts community in a webinar on Oct. 28 as part of the Tisch College Distinguished Speaker Series for fall 2020. Alan Solomont (A’70), dean of the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life, shared opening remarks, and Professor Kerri Greenidge moderated the conversation.

Solomont explained that the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. presidential election and protests for racial justice have collectively presented activists with a new set of challenges.

“These three together have made this a uniquely trying moment that has required a singular energy and ingenuity of those working at the intersection of these major crises in American life,” Solomont said. 

Greenidge, director of the American studies program, then began the conversation by noting that Brown was calling in from a campaign bus in Flint, Mich., where she has worked to organize the vote in this election cycle.

Brown mentioned that while there is a lot of concern and cynicism surrounding the U.S. political process, women have shown immense leadership and strength.

“There is a certain kind of way that women are showing up right now, I think because we sit uniquely at this intersection of sexism and racism and we’ve had to navigate those waters, I think it has fired us up and has prepared us for a moment like this,” she said. 

Greenidge asked Brown about the future of women’s politics if former Vice President Joe Biden were to win the presidential election on Nov. 3. 

“We’re going to see the organizing power, the strength and the commitment to democracy that women have,” Brown said. “Regardless of what the outcome is on the seventh day, I think women will all know ‘We’ve got work to do.'”

She expressed enthusiasm for Sen. Kamala Harris and said that without women’s voices, energy and leadership, America is severely handicapped.

“I do think that we are at this transitional moment in this country, I believe the Pandora’s box has been opened,” she said. “Women will go to their rightful place. Where is that? That is to lead.”

Brown underlined that she is inspired by the resilience women have shown throughout history.

“I pull my strength from those women, from the history of the line of women that, in spite of abuse, in spite of the racism, in spite of the misogyny, they still roll,” she said.

When asked about what encouraged her to become an activist, Brown explained that, as a child, she was always curious to learn about those who held positions of power.

“I was obsessed with really understanding power,” she said. “[Activism] became another vehicle for me … to try to influence those who I think are in charge or making sure that those who are in charge are not bullies. I think that was the foundation [for my activism].”

Brown indicated that she founded the Black Voters Matter Fund because she wanted to directly invest resources into Black groups. She also emphasized the importance of shifting the national discourse to highlight the importance of the Black vote. 

“What we wanted to do was, one, build a capacity of grassroots groups and build out the ecosystem, two, that we would actually serve as and bring in our expertise … as if Black people had a political party,” she said. “We were very intentional about where we’re going to shift this narrative that Black voters were not powerful, that Black voters were just secondary.”

Greenidge asked Brown about how to recognize active voter suppression as opposed to discarding it for believing it is a part of the political system.

Brown replied that voter suppression has always existed and has only recently intensified.

“If it has all the characteristics of voter suppression, it’s voter suppression … it is a strategy that has been used by folks that have been in power that know that they do not have the numbers or the people on their side,” Brown said.

The conversation later opened to questions from students. 

Brown believes this point in U.S. history shows that a real democracy has yet to be created.

“[Trump] is a symptom of a larger problem in this country. His racist rhetoric works because racism exists,” she said. “As long as we’ve got these systems in place, [democracy] will continue to be aspirational. But I want to achieve the democracy that the Constitution lays out, and we’re not there yet.”