Unique to the Black American experience is this enduring reality: We don’t have the luxury of opting out of the political process without it materially costing us or the people we care about.

And when you layer on your identity as a creative and all that comes with it, the only way to lessen the blunt of American capitalism, stomp out the myth of the meritocracy and reclaim sustainable power is through how we engage the democratic process.

The next big chance, if you so choose it, is with next Tuesday’s midterm elections.

I cover this stuff for a living and know from conversations that I’ve had with online creators that politicians have given you little reason to put your faith in them. I also know that it’s easy to feel as though your vote doesn’t matter or you exercising a right that both wasn’t always guaranteed for us and has been systematically chipped away at in recent years won’t make a difference.

But if you choose out based on this belief, you’re doing the opposition’s work for them. They would love nothing more to keep the resources they’ve set aside to discourage you to the point of helplessness and apathy. What opponents of progress and equality want is for you to forget that your vote doesn’t exist in a vacuum.
Instead, your vote is part of a broader coalition of people who share similar interests, ambitions and values. #blkcreatives is proof of how your mindset shifts when you see yourself as part of a community and not as a single person responsible for carrying all the weight. The same goes for the collective movements that you empower with your vote.

To be clear, voting isn’t a magic bullet. Your participation won’t fix everything that ails this country or your life. And there’s a chance that you may not see the future your vote makes possible in your lifetime. God knows my ancestors had no idea that their courage would blaze a trail for me to cover institutions that weren’t created for me. I’m certain next-generation reporters who look and love like I do will have a clearer path because I decided to take up space. And I’m certain you share a similar story.

Voting, however, will give you the credibility to hold your elected officials accountable to you. With every election, fewer districts and states remain competitive, which gives politicians permission to focus on an increasingly smaller slice of the electorate. When candidates and incumbents know they have to earn your vote, they’re more likely to keep their promises.

So whether you’re someone who tunes out politics and needs to catch up quick or you’ve already mapped out your vote plan and just need a refresher on the state of play before you head to the polls, this five-point primer will definitely get you right.

1. Republicans want the election to be a referendum on Democrats.

The Republican Party entered this midterm cycle with a historical advantage as the president’s party usually loses congressional seats in the first election after he takes office. Throw in inflation that’s as high as many of us have seen in our lifetimes, a fractured media ecosystem that accelerates the spread of misinformation and disinformation, and a Democratic caucus that has passed a lot of legislation but not without months of nasty infighting that made frustrated voters tune out.

Republicans will tell you that everything that’s wrong with the country is due to Democratic policies. From vaccine mandates and stimulus checks to the January 6th Committee and the migrant crisis, it’s all because Democrats are reckless spenders who want to make you dependent on the government while they spoon-feed your jobs to undocumented immigrants.

It’s easy to sling mud when you’re the minority party though. And what you can expect from Republicans if they win the House (as polls currently indicate) or the Senate (currently split 50-50 with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as the tie-breaker) is a constant relitigation of the past two years through investigations of the Biden administration’s COVID-19 response, the withdrawal from the war in Afghanistan, the surge in migration from the southern border and the finances of the president’s son, Hunter.

This will provide lots of fodder for Politics Twitter to trade barbs over but likely result in two years of gridlock where very little legislation of consequence gets passed. Republicans will dispute my characterization and claim they will govern with Democrats on issues where common ground lies. They also say President Biden has been too progressive in his first two years and that they would force his agenda back to the center. But in a party where the extremists are expected to call the shots, it’s hard to believe that they will see much incentive in doing anything that could be viewed as helping the other side.

Culture wars will continue to be at the forefront of a Republican-led Congress, which will target, LGBTQ youth and American history, for example, with a “parents’ bill of rights.” These aren’t new ideas, especially at the state level. But the difference this time is that they’ll have the power to try to nationalize them. And although President Biden will veto these bills if they were to somehow reach his desk, they would occupy the news cycle in a way that could erode our national discourse even more.

2. But Dems have framed the midterms as a choice.

Democrats will tell you that inflation is a global problem and when you look around the world, you’ll notice that costs in America aren’t as high as they are in other countries. And they’ll also tell you that the relief you’ll see starting in January on prescription drug prices, caps on the cost of insulin and your electric bill won’t be a coincidence. It will be because of bills they passed with little to no Republican support and that President Biden signed into law.
Issues aside, there’s a serious belief among Democrats that this election is the most consequential in recent history because it’s one of the last best chances to preserve our democracy as we know it.

They say it’s a choice between one party that wants full, fair and free elections and to protect your most fundamental freedoms — to decide if and when you’ll give birth to a child, whether to use birth control and who you will marry, for example — and another that takes it marching orders from former President Donald Trump, a wannabe autocrat who still traffics in the lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.

For people just trying to make ends meet, that’s a tough sell. So recently Democrats have doubled down on their economic bonafides to contrast their agenda against the Republican plan to turn the country’s full faith and credit into a bargaining chip in exchange for concessions on Social Security and Medicare. The GOP has also said that it would repeal the Inflation Reduction Act on day one, which would reverse the billions of dollars in Affordable Care Act subsidies for millions of Americans and wipe out the tax hike for wealthy individuals and big corporations.

Democrats see their work to expand and strengthen the social safety net as unfinished as well. Paid family leave, universal pre-K, affordable home care for older adults, and an extension of the expanded child tax credit (a policy that alone cut child poverty in almost half before it expired last year) are all issues Democrats will give another go if they hang onto their power. And they know they’ve left many Black voters disaffected by not expanding voting rights or passing police reform. These two issues are likely dead on arrival in a GOP-led Congress after Republicans blocked progress while in the minority.

3. Voter intimidation is up but the Justice Department has a plan.

The election will be one by which side turns out the most voters. And some extreme Republicans have turned to scary forms of voter intimidation to frighten voters from exercising their right to make their voices heard.

The good news is that an Arizona judge last Wednesday blocked an election-monitoring group from tactics like taking photos and carrying guns near ballot boxes. And White House national security officials say they’ve seen no immediate threats that would prevent people from safely casting their votes.

But amid fears of violent threats, the Justice Department released a plan for how it will protect voting rights through Election Day, in case you or someone you love feels violated:

Some of the DOJ’s actions include:

    • A comprehensive Election Day program administered by the Civil Rights Division to monitor and receive complaints of violations of federal voting rights laws.
    • A partnership between the 94 US Attorneys’ Offices and specially trained FBI personnel in each district to ensure that complaints from the public involving possible election fraud are handled appropriately.
    • Collaboration between the National Security Division, FBI and US Attorneys’ offices to protect against national security threats.

We The Action, an initiative under the organizing hub Civic Nation, is also recruiting thousands of lawyers for nonpartisan election protection projects.

“Our initiatives are working hard ahead of the midterms to combat voter suppression by educating voters and equipping them with the tools they need to make their voices heard at the ballot box,” a spokesperson for Civic Nation, told me. “The Justice Department’s efforts are an important step forward in creating a safe voting environment for all Americans, specifically Black, Brown, young, working-class, and LGBTQ+ voters, and we know we have more work to do to make sure our democracy is accessible to all of us.”

When We All Vote, another Civic Nation initiative created by former First Lady Michelle Obama to ensure that voters know their rights and have a plan to vote, is a fantastic resource if you’re unsure of what to do on Election Day.

It’s worth noting that in some states like Georgia early voting is up this election cycle, which has led some opponents of expanded voting rights to say that the movement to expand access to the polls is a partisan pursuit, not an attempt to strengthen democracy.

But I’ll let Stacey Abrams, the Democratic nominee for Georgia governor and founder of Fair Fight Action, an organization to fight voter suppression, explain why this is a misconception: “It is wrong to suggest that there is a correlation between voter turnout and voter suppression because suppression is about barriers. If those barriers are not completely successful, the credit does not go to those who erected the barriers. The credit goes to those voters who found a way to navigate, overwhelm and overcome those barriers.”

And White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre echoed a similar sentiment: [S]peaking generally, high turnout and voter suppression can take place at the same time. [O]ne doesn’t have to happen on its own. They could be happening at the same time.”

If you feel threatened, intimidated, or see issues at your polling locations, contact the DOJ per their instructions or reach out to the non-profit-run election protection coalition through 866-OUR-VOTE.

4. Whatever happens in this election could potentially shake up House Democratic leadership.

House Democrats have been led by a three-person gerontocracy for the past two decades: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (82), Leader Steny Hoyer (83) and Whip Jim Clyburn (82). (FYI, the speaker is the presiding officer of the US House of Representatives, while the leader decides which bills will be put on the floor for a vote and the whip makes sure the party has enough votes for or against a piece of legislation based on leadership’s preferences.)

But the rumor mill has been churning for at least the past year that Speaker Pelosi could retire from public service if Democrats lose the House. This would give younger members and progressives uninspired by incrementalism an opportunity to remake party leadership in their image. Pelosi acknowledged that the party needs generational change to MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell last month but also argued that in some cases there’s no substitute for experience.
House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries, House Democratic Caucus Vice Chair Pete Aguilar and Assistant Speaker Katherine Clark are seen as the next generation of party leaders. And if elected to leadership, they would reflect the diversity that Democrats see as their biggest electoral asset: Jeffries (52) is Black, Aguilar (43) is Latino and Clark (59) is a woman. They’re also experienced legislators, effective messengers and skilled fundraisers — all prerequisites for congressional leaders.

The downside to the younger trio is that Jeffries and Aguilar represent New York and California districts respectively. Pelosi’s district is also in California along with Kevin McCarthy, who is likely to become House Speaker if Republicans reclaim the majority. And Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer also reps New York, which means the top two Democrats would hail from the same state. Clark is from Massachusetts, another coastal state as well. This may not sit well with Democrats who would prefer to see a bit more geographic diversity in the top ranks.

Meanwhile, Hoyer and Clyburn, who would be next in line based on the current hierarchy, have said that they’re not on Pelosi’s timeline and have no intention of stepping down from leadership. It seems Hoyer is more interested in rising to the top spot than Clyburn is moving up. And even if Democrats hang on to the House, progressives are still expected to push for a youth infusion.

It’s too early to speculate on what a leadership shake-up would mean for the party’s legislative agenda but it’s clear that one is bound to happen sooner rather than later — and next week’s election could be the catalyst.

5. The down-ballot races matter too.

Most of the national airtime and news coverage this election cycle has focused on the most high-profile candidates and races in Congress and for governorships. But the state and local races for the elected offices that directly impact your daily lives are just as important. Case in point: Most elected prosecutors are white but many of them run in uncontested races. We’ve seen over time how justice systems treat communities of color; the people who you elect down could have the power to promote equity at the local level.

There are also school boards, which have been weaponized to launch unprecedented and relentless attacks on LGBTQ youth and teachers in states like Florida. This election cycle, there are more LGBTQ school board candidates this year than ever before — part of an aggressive response to the decades of persistent down-ballot organizing by the conservative movement that has secured control of 30 of the country’s state houses, 32 state senates, 28 governor’s offices and 23 trifectas, where the state house, the state senate, and the office of the governor are each controlled by Republicans.

Not to mention, your vote carries the most weight at the local level since they often have lower turnout, offering those who do vote outsized influence. Less involvement at the local level from corporations and special interest groups also gives you a chance to flex your electoral power in ways that are sometimes harder at the national level.

And keep in mind that today’s down-ballot candidate is likely tomorrow’s or next week’s up-ballot candidates as county commissioners and state legislators often run for Congress and the governor and US senators or governors run for president.