Despite the fact that he isn’t occupying the New York seat in the U. S. Congress, after running in 2008 and 2010, activist, writer, entrepreneur and cultural influencer Kevin Powell still hears his mother’s instruction. She commanded, “When you turn 18, you have to vote and vote for the rest of your life.”
A longtime resident of Brooklyn, N.Y., Powell is imposing his mother’s charge on fellow activists to engage misinformed, disengaged and apathetic voters before the upcoming presidential election. “It is our responsibility and we have got to be very aggressive in voter education and outreach for the next three to four months. We have to get on social networks, go door-to-door and do everything possible and say to people that this really is about life or death. It is not just about getting President Obama back in office, it is about creating a culture of civic engagement,” he says.
Powell’s political start reaches back to the 1980s when he worked on Rev. Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaign and with the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice as a teenager.
“I have an intimate understanding of the voter process, voter registration and helping get people out to vote. In the 1980s, not just with ALEC [American Legislative Exchange Council] but in general, something happened; this has been going on for the last 30 years: movements to shift and destroy the minimal gains that we achieved during the Civil Rights Movement in this country. Let’s be clear and put this context. Yes, the Civil Rights Movement was propelled by black people but it benefitted multicultural America,” explains Powell.
“Just like the election of President Barack Obama was driven by black people, it was multicultural folks and coalitions coming together [that produced the victory]. There were certain people in power in the 1980s who are still in power today … wealthy white males with power who are conservative and want to conserve the old way of America [that won’t] benefit you if you happen to be a woman, a member of the LGBT community, a person of color or a poor white sister or brother. They’ve created a language that shifted the conversation away from civil rights to anti-civil rights to voter suppression to an anti-democracy movement,” he adds. “It is purposeful and is not a coincidence that ALEC has been funding the voter suppression laws around the country. It is not a coincidence this is happening on the heels of the first black, the first biracial, multicultural President of the United States. It’s not a coincidence that they have taken advantage of the absence of civic engagement.”
Powell recently penned his 11th book, Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, and The Ghost of Dr. King, Powell, and his online portal advocating civic engagement and social change BK Nation – “BK,” short for building knowledge, is live on Facebook. –yvette caslin+