Baratunde Thurston Offers Unique Perspective on the Power of Voting


Baratunde Thurston is an activist, writer, comedian, he's worked for the Onion, produced for the Daily Show, is a podcast host, and he's a voter. With the 2020 election coming up in November, the "We're Having a Moment" host opened up about voting and more on the "Why I'm Voting" podcast.

Thurston was introduced to the democratic process at an early age as he attended a demonstration in Washington, DC with his mother as a child. He recalled, "Marching down the streets and feeling connected to all these other people around me, and I felt even more empowered as a high school student, a larger child as I sometimes like to refer to it, and doing a protest after the police terribly beat Rodney King, and a bunch of us were so upset, we went outside the Department of Justice to let our voices be heard. We were not allowed to vote at that time, but we could show up with our bodies and our voices and our feet, and that felt empowering, because it felt like we weren't alone, and that we weren't crazy — like other people thought the same way we did, which is a really satisfying thing."

Later on in the podcast episode, he offered a unique perspective on the power of voting, and what he tells people when he discovers they're not voting. He explained, "I don't tell them anything right off the bat, honestly. I ask them, 'Why not?' And that's usually revealing, 'cause some people say, 'Because I can't. I'm too young' or 'I have a felony record and I'm not allowed to in this state' or 'I'm not a legal citizen, I have a certain immigration status.' And so if I had started lecturing, now I'm the jerk, you know? And so it's important to get that context."

Thurston added, "But when they are eligible and don't [vote], it's often like, 'Oh, the system's just totally rigged' or 'My vote doesn't count because the electoral college in these presidential things and I live in a state where I already know.' And so what I try to then think about is, depending on who they are, some people respond to the idea that, and this is my favorite one: We get to overthrow our government every couple years, like, peacefully. You know what I'm saying? 'Cause government overthrows, like, you see that stuff on the news, it can be messy.But we get to throw people out of power and put other ones in, in our name if we feel like the folks aren't doing a good job. And that's a beautiful idea. Like, regularly scheduled, peaceful revolutions. They're like commercial breaks in power shifting. That is a part of it."

Baratunde also added of another perspective on voting:

"Something I tell people [is], 'Look, a lot of folks have sacrificed a lot for this right, especially if they're Black like me,' and I'm like, 'Our ancestors fought a lot for us to be able to exercise this right.' But I don't try to oversell it, because I know a lot of people who have been told that their vote doesn't count, that they don't matter, and they've been told more passively, not with those words, but by being ignored for years by politicians, by the system, by people in power, and then folks wanna come around last minute and tell you how important you are. And we all recognize fakeness. You recognize it in that friend that's not really a friend and that boss that just wants to get extra work out of you and doesn't actually respect you. You recognize it in a political operation that wants to get something from you, but has never shown up to give you anything. I gotta honor that, honestly, and I can't pretend like that's not true. And so for that harder case, it's like, good point, you're right, the system is not always responsive, and so here's what I'm asking: Let this be a step, 'cause when you don't show up, they also win. There are people who gain from our lack of participation and it makes their job easier, actually. 'Cause then they can just focus on a smaller and smaller slice of people who do show up and who do write checks. So let's make their jobs harder. Let's make them earn the right to represent us, and then let's us show up every other day in different ways. And voting is so important, but it's one in many ways we can show up as citizens."

"Why I'm Voting" features some the biggest stars, cultural influencers and athletes, sharing what matters to them most as the upcoming election approaches, and why it’s so important to show up to the ballot box. The podcast will run weekly through Election Day in November, and listeners will have the chance to talk about why they are voting, and can record and submit their own 20 second or less audio or video message at iHeartRadio.com/vote.

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