LaTosha Brown has spent the last quarter century focused on community organizing and other political work in the South.
Brown is the 51-year-old voting rights activist and multitasking grandmother from Selma, Alabama, who co-founded Black Voters Matter in 2012 along with fellow activist Cliff Albright. BVM is a nonpartisan voting rights and community empowerment organization that engages and mobilizes Black folks to help increase their electoral power, particularly in the South.
For her work, Brown won several prestigious awards along the way to becoming one of the nation’s leading Black voices for positive change. Throughout her life and with current work with BVM, Brown’s goal has been to connect with Black voters one by one on an individual level over time in an effort to maximize their electoral might. In recent years, BVM has expanded its reach to at least 17 states across the country.
“What we’re teaching our community is, we’re not just here for your vote. We care about you as a person,” Brown said. “When you show up for folks, they respond.”
During her youth, Brown studied political science at Auburn University before becoming a mom, leaving school early and taking a job at a clothing store. Her passion for activism led her to become co-director of the 21st Century Youth Leadership Movement in the late 1990s. Before launching BVM, she focused her efforts on helping hurricane survivors in the Gulf Coast region get their lives and communities back on track.
Brown recently spoke to Capital B Atlanta about her drive and the challenges to help Black voters overcome added obstacles in the political process, her organization’s strategy over time and how she overcomes activists fatigue. Questions and answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Capital B Atlanta: What’s your overall message to Black voters in Georgia as we head into this pivotal midterm election cycle?
LaTosha Brown: That our work is not done. At the end of the day, for us, this has never been about participating in one election. This is about building power. And as long as our community don’t have what it needs, that means that we’ve got work to do. So going into this election, we are saying that what happened with SB 202, we have not forgotten. They came for us. We’re coming for them.
Part of why we saw the voter suppression [after the 2020 election] is not because we’re losing. It’s because we’re winning. This is the time to go hard in the paint.
What are you hearing on the ground from Black voters about their experiences in being engaged, or not, with the political process this year? Heading into the fall?
What we’re hearing from Black voters is that they want to see more action on the agenda that they voted for. They want to see movement on criminal justice reform, economic relief, and those issues that they care about the most. What we are also hearing from Black voters is a nuanced understanding of how the Republicans have aligned themselves with white supremacists. I believe Black voters understand the critical nature of what we’re facing right now, politically.
What are some of the specific ways Black Voters Matter and the organizations you guys work with keep voters engaged?
We have a massive text messaging campaign that [keeps] people abreast on what issues are happening, for them to sign up and get updates. We have a newsletter that we send out to give updates.
It’s about giving information that’s relevant to the Black community, to our people, in real time. So when the crime bill is coming up, let the millions of people in our database know that the crime bill is coming up and these are the actions they can do. These are the steps they can take. Giving them information about upcoming elections. Giving them information about what’s currently happening in the context of voter suppression.
In addition to that, we go out in communities and we go door-to-door. We have organizations that we work with that are doing projects in communities constantly, whether that’s voter registration drives, voter forums.
When folks have voter problems, many of them call us. We actually help them through their voter problems. Sometimes that’s connecting them to the right source. Sometimes that’s our people actually showing up to help organize them. We mobilize people to go to city council meetings.
When there’s an issue in their community around, let’s say a police shooting, just like what happened in Elizabeth City, [North Carolina], folks called us. We were able to mobilize resources so that we could get a message out that could actually organize people to show up in mass numbers at the event.
We did what is just kind of basic organizing, which is making contact with people, getting them information, engaging them in events and activities outside of voting to mobilize them to action.
What’s different about BVM’s strategies and tactics this year?
We’re using gamers. We have a whole fundraiser thing that we’re doing and a voter outreach thing we’re doing where we actually have gamers, famous gamers, who are incorporating voting in .
The goal is always to do outreach and have a message. We actually utilize and leverage culture, like gaming events. We have a project called Take the Field where we mobilize college students.
The goal for us isn’t, “Oh, we’ve got to be new, innovative and different.” We’re at the intersection of using just the basic fundamentals of organizing that have not changed, and have been able to layer that with culture in a way that’s relevant and cool and engaging.
Are the priorities of Black voters different now than they were in recent years? Why or why not?
I think that our priorities may change in order of urgency, but for the most part, we’ve been consistent. I think the structural barriers of racism have created the issues of economic inequities, disparities, mass incarceration and how the criminal justice system has been weaponized against our community, inadequate access to quality education, and the exploitation of our wealth through racists policies, like housing. If I live in a community, and I’m white, my house is worth more by the nature of me being white and living in it. Some of the price that we have to pay is the unfair and expensive costs of being Black in an America that is rooted in favoring white privilege.
Has the strategy for engaging Black voters changed from when you launched in 2016 to 2022?
No, the strategy really hasn’t changed. It’s been about three things for us that remain consistent — money, mobilization, and message. Our strategy has always been to put money on the ground, to mobilize and motivate voters to … seek power for themselves in their community, and have a message that has shifted the narrative of who Black people are.
What have been your greatest challenges trying to galvanize Black voters on a year-round basis? Have those shifted over the course of the past few years?
The greatest challenges have been about balancing information and engaging people who have been a part of our community that has been marginalized. Another challenge is trying to combat white supremacy, when all of the systems are rooted in white privilege, and in an environment that has been racially charged and, quite frankly, unsafe. There are things that I’m concerned about now around the safety of our campuses, our communities, and even my own safety. There is also the growing concern around those who blatantly and openly lie around who votes and whose votes should count by the highest levels of government. I also think it’s more challenging right now because we have less voting protection in Georgia than we did when the [Voting Rights] Act was passed in 1965.
You’ve been at this for a long time. How do you yourself keep from having activism fatigue? What drives you?
That’s a great question. I do the Southern Black Girls and Women’s Consortium. I actually engage in work that is fulfilling and brings me joy. Southern Black Girls is the perfect example because we are able to invest in Black girls and create programs that are rooted in joy and sisterhood. That work is what fills me and makes me feel affirmed and powerful. Also, I sing. I’m a musician and a cultural arts influencer. I create, and I’m currently working on a play and several other cultural projects. Lastly, I’m very contemplative around this precious gift of life that we’ve all been given, how we make the most of this time that we have on this earth, and how I can use my gifts in a way that makes it easier for people to live healthy, full, and free lives.