Voting Rights Now: A Call to Action
Toyin Ajayi and Iyah Romm, Co-Founders, Cityblock Health
We were honored, today, on behalf of Cityblock Health, to add our names to the list of hundreds of American companies opposing the effort to limit the most fundamental democratic right that we all share — the right to vote. The history of racial oppression in this country has taught us that the struggle to protect and safeguard equal rights for all is never over. Now, we find ourselves, almost 60 years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, facing a moral imperative. We must continue to raise our voices alongside those of so many others to defend equal access to voting for all Americans.
We built Cityblock because, across America, a deep history of racial oppression has drastically constrained access to high-quality health services. And we’re building Cityblock with the notion that businesses can be different: we can lead by example, in how we care for our workforce, in how we invest in our communities, and in how we speak out fearlessly against shameful policies aimed directly at silencing the very communities we exist to serve. This modern form of corporate citizenship embraces anti-racism as a business imperative. It is rooted in protecting, preserving, and advancing a democracy that promotes equitability of access for all people. It’s the most important investment an organization can make.
Following Georgia’s restrictive legislation, 44 states are debating measures intended to make it more difficult to vote. Powerful forces are directly targeting Black, Latinx, Native American, and Asian American voters in battleground states from Florida to Arizona, and from Michigan to Texas. These efforts are calculated, deeply attentive to detail, and they are not hiding their intention to cement white power.
We need every corporate leader to stand up and commit their organization to overcoming the injustice before us. Your communities cannot breathe in a vacuum of silence. Without ensuring the right to vote for all Americans, there will be no democracy. Communities will be disconnected from those who purportedly represent them. What little civil discourse that remains will die on the vine.
It’s a truism that should speak to all of us. However, as co-founders of a company with a mission to address head-on the health inequities that overwhelmingly affect underserved communities, in particular communities of color, equal access to voting is personal. We know firsthand that the forces animating the voter suppression movement — prejudice, entitlement, exclusion, and the desperate attempt to preserve the traditional divisions of power — are the same toxic behaviors that have denied the most marginalized amongst us the right to quality healthcare. After all, what is the difference between being refused entry to the voting booth without a driver’s license and being denied access to healthcare due to lack of adequate transportation? Is there a difference between removing polling locations in poor and majority-Black communities and failing to reimburse mental health providers in Medicaid sufficiently to enable access for lower-income populations? There’s a thread that runs from the voting booth to the doctor’s office, and it’s spun with the fibers of injustice. Just as it was for Black people until 1965, and white women until 1920, regarding the right to vote, there is a tacit belief in the United States that there are populations more deserving of quality healthcare — affluent, educated, white collar, insured — and others that aren’t. The crusade to disenfranchise voters of color relies on the abuses of power and privilege that have been wielded to deprive the same populations of equal access to care.
The current effort to deny people the right to vote is targeted at those who have been historically and systematically marginalized from the ideals of our Constitution. Their present plight, with the legislative progress made to correct the sins of the past now eroding, is an indictment of our modern society. We are at grave risk of voter suppression laws in Georgia and elsewhere intensifying the racial and economic disparities that have crushed minority populations under a yoke of underrepresentation. This would be antithetical to living in a free and fair country.
In a speech in Riverside Church in New York City, exactly one year to the day before he was assassinated, Dr. Martin Luther King invoked the “fierce urgency of now” to combat the injustice of his time, calling for people to move from indecision to action. The movement to restrict the right to vote is the injustice of our moment we must confront. Now is the time for corporate leaders in every state to take a stand and help protect the foundational values of equality from which our health and freedom can rise.