Presidency Is Important, But The Change We Seek Is Closer To Home

Unless you've somehow avoided every TV, mobile device and all other glowing rectangles competing for our attention in 2016, you've probably noticed it's election season in America. And whether you're tuned into cable news or social media, you've no doubt heard two names drilled into your head over and over and over again -- leading many to the conclusion that the 2016 presidential election is the only consequential decision being made by voters this year. I know. I spent the last eight years proudly serving our current president, on both of his campaigns and in his White House, and we work hard in election years to make sure our candidates are top of mind.

But turn on the TV or check your social media feed this week, and you're likely to hear three new names that ought to carry some weight this election season. Three names that have more to do with this election than you may think. Tyre King, Terence Crutcher and Keith Scott. Three black lives lost -- one of them, just a 13 year-old boy -- shot and killed in an encounter with police.

Our hearts shatter for these families -- and everyone affected in these tragedies. Still, I'm doing my very best not to obsess over the grainy video footage or prosecute the cases from my living room. I'm trying to focus on something that is in all of our control.

We have to recognize that these issues that move us to march in our streets, are almost exclusively controlled by state and local leaders -- not our president.

Even as we're all hypnotized by the presidential race, and the candidates' rhetorical responses to these incidents, we have to recognize that these issues that impact us directly, that move us to tears and to march in our streets, are almost exclusively controlled by state and local leaders -- not our president. This is not to say the race for president isn't important. It was humbling to serve President Obama as he truly has done everything in his power to set a functional tone in this country to enable progress and racial reconciliation. But while electing a black president -- twice -- revealed our strength and capacity as a nation, it also ripped the scab off centuries worth of pent-up anger, racial distrust and deep cultural divisions. Divisions as old as our nation itself that still require time and hard work to heal.

Even though the racial progress we've made is very real, so too are the stubborn realities that linger in our communities and leave too many of us feeling powerless and afraid. These aren't problems to be washed away by our President -- no matter who it is. But this is no reason to disengage. No, it should be cause to dig deeper, to look closer and to fully embrace both our power and responsibility as voters. Not just to choose who will set the tone from the White House, but to carefully select who will train and support our police departments, who will hold them accountable in moments of crisis, who will keep our water clean and safe to drink and who will keep our babies empowered in their classrooms.

Even though the racial progress we've made is very real, so are the stubborn realities that linger in our communities that leave too many of us feeling powerless and afraid.

It's on us to seek out and put the right people in place, to represent our will and our priorities -- and that is how we ensure justice and change in our communities. It's hard to effectively challenge the validity of the system until we are all participating because it's the duty of our elected officials to serve us and the greater good, and it's our duty to hold them accountable with our votes.

As young voters get more and more educated and vocal on issues of criminal justice, policing and economic access, we have to use these moments of engagement to inspire a renewed focus on local elections and office holders, so that the first time we learn the name of our local law enforcement or justice officials isn't after tragedy strikes, but instead as we prepare to vote.

We can't ever forget that the hardest fought domestic battles of the past century were over the right to vote. To convince ourselves that voting doesn't matter is a slap in the face to everyone who gave their lives and livelihoods in those struggles. And just as the rest of the country didn't fully recognize the overt violence black people faced in this past century until TVs appeared in more homes, and cameras captured incidents like Bloody Sunday and the Watts Riots, mobile devices, dash cams and body cameras are bringing a stubborn truth to light for a whole new generation of our fellow Americans.

No one can tell me that this young generation of voters is apathetic. That we don't care or can't be bothered to make our voices heard. To the contrary, we are fiery, we are engaged and our passion can't be denied. The trick now is to harness that energy and our fierce urgency into dignified demonstrations in our streets, forceful expressions through our art and our speech and by flexing our historic strength at the ballot box.

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