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Athletes Shut It Down for Racial Justice

Article published:
Photo of Milwaukee Bucks player Giannis Antetokounmpo

Imagine NBA stars as poll watchers insuring that Black voters can file into arenas unsuppressed by armed fascists.

In the aftermath of the August 23 police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team shut down their playoff game with the Orlando Magic in protest. This triggered shutdowns of other NBA games and negotiations with the owners on practical steps that could be taken to deal with systemic racism.

Superstar LeBron James has long been leading a campaign to promote voting. The NBA players got the owners to agree to use their arenas as giant polling places. THIS IS BRILLIANT! In the center of mostly urban areas there will be giant public polling places that can be sanctuaries for unimpeded and unintimidated voting, in buildings designed to handle large crowds quickly and efficiently. Imagine NBA stars outside as poll watchers insuring that urban voters, Black and brown folks, can file in unsuppressed by armed para fascists.

This kind of resistance to voter suppression is crucial to winning the swing states that Trump carried in 2016 and where enthusiasm for him is still riding high. The margins in each of those states would have been overcome if Black people had voted in numbers that can be attained in 2020. Here are the margins for Trump and the numbers of Blacks who did not vote in 2016:

Trump won Wisconsin by
23,000 votes
… but in Milwaukee,
93,000 Black people didn’t vote

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Trump won Florida by
113,000 votes
… but in Miami,
379,000 Black people didn’t vote


Trump won Michigan by
11,000 votes
… but in Detroit,
277,000 Black people didn’t vote


Trump won Pennsylvania by
44,000 votes
… but in Philadelphia,
238,000 Black people didn’t vote


Trump won North Carolina by
173,000 votes
… but in Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro and Durham,
233,000 Black people didn’t vote


Trump won Georgia by
211,000 votes
… but in Atlanta 530,000 Black people didn’t vote

(By The New York Times | Source: analysis of Black citizen population estimates (2016 American Community Survey) and Black citizen non-voting rates by state (2016 Voting and Registration Supplement to the Census Current Population Survey) by Karthik Balasubramanian, Howard University)

Now imagine if football players and their union follow suit and liberate their giant stadiums as polling places monitored by hulking offensive linemen. Seems far-fetched in a league that did not back Colin Kaepernick in his protest for Black Lives Matter in 2016. But the times they are a changing and swiftly. Check out Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll’s moving interview calling out systemic racism.

And what could be the role of the rest of the U.S. labor movement? The pro athletes have 100% membership in their associations (unions). The rest of organized labor – public and private sector combined – is at 10%.

There is talk about national strikes and those should not be ruled out, but a  more plausible course of action in every major American urban center would be to join with NBA stars and provide a cordon sanitaire of safety for voting at arenas. This plays to labor’s continuing urban presence in many of these urban centers and to the fact that a large part of its public sector urban membership is people of color. How can labor play a role in fighting voter suppression? Labor can mobilize its ranks to provide massive security squadrons for urban arenas and maybe even some football stadia on November 3!

Call to Arenas and Dump Trump!

This article is being published jointly by Organizing Upgrade and The Stansbury Forum.



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