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Left to right: Calvert White, Taylor Turnage, Maisie Brown and Timothy Young sit on stage at the BLM Sip protest in downtown Jackson in June 2020 in the wake of the George Floyd shooting. Photo courtesy Taylor Turnage

Young Mississippi Organizers Pivot from Anti-Racism Protests to Getting Out the Vote

Discouraged. Angry. Disappointed. There aren’t enough adjectives to describe Jarrius Adams’ mood following the presidential election results on Nov. 4, 2016. The Oxford, Miss., resident thought about the individuals he had organized with in North Carolina, New York and Mississippi. For a moment, he lost hope.  

“One thing that made me stop crying the next day is when I thought to myself how selfish I was being. Not saying people aren’t valid in their emotions. But I felt like if I’m upset about this imagine how Hillary Cilnton feels,” he told the Mississippi Free Press. 

He said Clinton’s fire to continue the fight despite her loss restored his hope and he knew he had to continue to rally and fight. 

Adams, 23, is the president of Young Democrats of Mississippi, a chapter of the Young Democrats of America which is the largest youth-led partisan political organization in the nation. YDA mobilizes young people under the age of 36 to participate in the election process to elect Democrats and advocate for progressive issues. 

The organization has been working hard this year to get voters to the polls, organizing digitally in light of the pandemic, he said. 

“We’ll be rolling out a lot of GOTV videos,” the president told the Mississippi Free Press this week “We have worked with candidates to connect them with students on campus when they have events. We’ve connected volunteers. We did a phone bank earlier where we reached 50,000 contacts on a Saturday. We’ve hosted candidates over the summer.”

Young Democrats for Mississippi President Jarrius Adams (left) and BLM Sip co-founder Taylor Turnage on stage at the Black Lives Matter protest in downtown Jackson in June. Photo courtesy Taylor Turnage

Politics and voting were not topics discussed in Adams’ household or lessons taught in school, he said. At that time, his family didn’t vote, discouraged with politics in Mississippi. It was until his freshman year at the University of Mississippi that his interest in politics was piqued and he got involved with Democratic and progressive movements on campus, he said. 

“I worked on the Initiative 42 campaign in 2015 and I saw the disparity in the education system across the state of Mississippi,” he said. “A lot of it had to do with politics and policy or the lack thereof, so I got more involved and realized that all issues revolve around policy from Medicaid to public education to clear air, taxes.

Initiative 42 was a failed attempt to force the Mississippi Legislature to follow state law and fully fund the Mississippi Adequate Education Act.

Despite stereotypes that young people aren’t interested in politics or voting, Adams said that isn’t the case. This year, Young Democrats of America has placed young people into various campaigns that are hiring for interns across the country, he said.

“I think with all the things that have happened from the deaths to the murders, the appointments to the Supreme Court, all of the absurd and egregious things that have happened have woken people up, especially young people,” he said. 

The Young Republicans Federation is an organization geared toward young people on the other side of the political aisle.

Though the younger generation has been using social media as a helpful tool to vent their frustrations and disseminate information, going to the ballot box is also important, Adams said. 

“You do not want to wake up on November 4 and feel the way you felt after the election in 2016. You have to do all that you can. And maybe after you vote, you still don’t feel like your vote matters, but at least you did everything in your individual capacity to change something in our nation,” Adams added. 

‘We Gotta Get Back Up’

Tougaloo College Senior Biology major Taylor Turnage got into politics during former President Barack Obama’s era. She was in middle school at the time, but seeing a Black person get to that high of a position motivated her to learn the ins and outs of politics. 

The first time the Byram, Miss., resident voted was during the 2016 election and she can remember the night of the election as vividly as people remember 9/11, she said. 

“We had a watch party that night for the results. After a while, we just ended the party because it was going to take all night. Some of us went back to the dorms and watched it in the lobby. We stayed up until 2 in the morning waiting for the results to come out because we couldn’t grasp that he was in the lead,” Turnage told the Mississippi Free Press. 

The senior said seeing the electoral college, a political institution rooted in a racist history, overpower the popular vote was disheartening for her and many of her peers, who were also first-time voters. The hardest thing has been trying to restore faith in her peers who don’t want to vote again after the 2016 election. 

“I like to live by the saying ‘without failure, there is no success.’ I look at the last time as like we failed, but we gotta get back up. Say you go out for a job and you don’t get the job. Are you just going to stop looking for a job or are you going to look for another job?” she said. 

Turnage is the state president for the youth and college division of the NAACP and a co-founder of BLM Sip, two organizations rallying around the presidential election to get voters out to the polls. 

Taylor Turnage and activist Maisie Brown marching at the BLM Sip protest in downtown Jackson in June. Photo courtesy Taylor Turnage

“Our (organization) is geared towards ages from birth to 35 years old. We’re very into political change and making up a political home for Black people in Mississippi. The way to do that most of the time is through political change,” Turnage said of BLM Sip. 

Back in June, BLM Sip hosted and organized the massive protest in downtown Jackson on June 6, 2020, following the police killing of George Floyd and the shooting of Breonna Taylor. The organization also joined the fight to help get the Mississippi flag, with its Confederate canton, taken down.

“I know for the NAACP we have been working nationally and locally. Each college campus here in Mississippi has been working with their campus to get voter registration out before the deadline. We have been giving out voter information, t-shirts, voter cards to make sure people know when to vote,” Turnage said. 

She has also hosted voting events with her sorority Delta Sigma Theta Incorporated at the Gamma Psi Chapter of Tougaloo College. The biology major said she thinks that the climate this year has made you people more interested in voting. 

“It’s made people more aware of why we need to vote and the effects can take place depending on who is in office,” Turnage said. “It just opens people’s eyes to how important that one position is and how it can affect the country as a whole.”  

The new wave of young people delving into the political realm shows that it’s not just the older generation of 60- or 70-year-old white men infiltrating those spaces anymore, Turnage said. 

“A lot of the time we can’t relate to that,” she said. “Sometimes when you have a younger person who is from where you’re from and has been through the things you’ve been through and you know they’re fighting for people like you, it hits differently. It means more.”

To learn more about BLM Sip, visit its website here

Also see MFP’s Mississippi Trusted Elections Project, focusing on access to the polls and voting access in Mississippi. Visit the site to view several infographics and continually updated maps of voting precincts, absentee vote totals and precinct changes across Mississippi.

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