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IDEAS

I knocked on 3,200 doors in Georgia, answering a cry for help

‘People have been trying to suppress our vote. And for a while, I think it suppressed some people’s minds.’

Shemika Simmons, right, with LaTosha Brown, a co-founder of Black Voters Matter, at a Thanksgiving turkey drive where they registered voters in Savannah.
Shemika Simmons, right, with LaTosha Brown, a co-founder of Black Voters Matter, at a Thanksgiving turkey drive where they registered voters in Savannah.Courtesy of Shemika Simmons

Going into 2020, I felt like instead of the United States, somehow we had turned into the Divided States. I don’t think I have ever been through anything like this. So for me, this Senate race, this presidential race, was a race for help, a cry for help.

To have people call you that you haven’t spoken with in a long time, people who didn’t even tell you “Merry Christmas,” say, “Hey! Did you tell somebody to vote?” — and I’d say, “I am out here working! I’m in the trenches working!”

My mission was to wake folks up and let them know, especially felons, that they can vote. I don’t know where this myth came from that they have to wait five years. I even had a neighbor who said, “I can’t vote. I’m a felon.” And I was like, “No, uh-uh, you need to do some research, honey.” I said, “You can vote. You will vote. I got an application right now!” And it was so funny standing on the porch, I said, “We’re going to register you right now. You’re going to vote!” I mean, that feels good, to be your brother, your sister’s keeper. And the look on his face was like, “I can vote? I have a voice?”

And I told him, “Yes! You got a voice! You got your rights, babe. You pay taxes. You don’t owe any fines. You are somebody.”

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I get excited when I can enlighten and empower. I tell people: Your vote is your microphone. If you don’t vote, you’re being silenced. You can’t be heard. Your voice is your mic. Your mic is your ballot.

We have been so disenfranchised. People have been trying to suppress our vote. And it’s kind of like for a while, I think it suppressed some people’s minds. And it put them in a mindset of “We don’t matter. They’re going to do what they want to do anyway.” It goes back into the ’50s, when we were fighting for our right to vote, and our grandmothers and mothers were fighting for equality. And it’s not just African Americans, it’s minorities as whole for so long felt like nobody cares, that we come last anyway.

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And so I walked to many doors of many nationalities just asking the question, “Are you going to vote?” And they’d say, “I don’t want to vote.” And so I’d say, “Have you been affected by this pandemic?”

I don’t care who you are, everybody has been affected. You can be rich, poor, middle class, whatever. This pandemic, everybody’s walking around with the question mark, and I tell people that all the time. “I’m a question mark. You’re a question mark. She’s a question mark. Who’s next?” And so with that being said, we need the right people in place to represent us.

We have people dying daily. That’s a problem for me. That’s a problem for you. It’s a health problem. It’s a financial problem. It’s a spiritual problem. And it’s a mental problem. We’re going through serious problems. And I talk with people about what I’ve been through, what I’m going through. I just share my own testimony — this is why I vote, because this is what I have been going through. And guess what? You’re agreeing with me. You’re telling me what you’re going through, and we can relate. So will you help me get somebody in to help you and to help us?

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So when you ask people, “If you had a chance to get somebody in that could represent you and recognize and realize and react to what you are going through, would you do it?” And they say, “Yeah, I guess if the right person came.” And then you say, “Would you register to vote and voice your opinion?” And if they say yeah, then that’s priceless.

So OK, we got the Senate. And it doesn’t stop. Registering voters — it doesn’t stop. Keeping the community engaged — it doesn’t stop. Holding everybody that made it accountable — it doesn’t stop. And that’s how you keep the momentum going. It is not over. Today is just a day of celebration. Tomorrow, it continues. You never let it die. It is a 365-day effort.

Shemika Simmons, 40, is the community outreach coordinator for the A. Philip Randolph Institute’s southeast region, in partnership with Black Voters Matter. She lives in Savannah, Ga. Kelly Horan is deputy editor of Ideas.