Moving Equity and Justice Forward
February is recognized nationally as Black History Month. It was declared a national holiday in 1976 by President Gerald Ford. Since then, the US has celebrated the achievements of Black Americans. While this month is a time to honor and celebrate, it is also an excellent opportunity to learn and reflect on what we can contribute to achieve racial equity.
A Pew Research Center study from 2022 found that about 6 million US adults identify as Afro-Latino. That is 2% of the overall US adult population and 12% of the Latino adult population. From music, food, and even language, Central and South America have been greatly influenced by African culture throughout time, given the history of colonization, which included the slave trade. It is important to see how this affected and continues to affect Hispanic countries and cultures.
One issue that should be considered is the racial inequity it has caused. This is an enormous part of history in many places around the world. One way to help ensure we are moving forward in the right direction is by electing people who understand and value the importance of racial equity and justice. It is also important to hold our elected leaders accountable when they cause harm to others, intentional or not. In addition to electing and holding leaders accountable, you can also advocate for yourself and others; Elizabeth Peratrovich did just that.
Elizabeth Peratrovich was an Alaskan Native civil rights activist who helped pass Alaska’s Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945. This was the first anti-discrimination bill in the United States. She famously said, “Asking you to give me equal rights implies that they are yours to give. Instead, I must demand that you stop trying to deny me the rights all people deserve.” Peratrovich knew everyone deserved to be treated equally under the law regardless of who they were or what they looked like. February 16th was declared Elizabeth Peratrovich Day here in Alaska in the late 80s for her efforts to create a more perfect union. She was a true Alaskan trailblazer and leader.
We can all keep this work moving forward by protecting our right to vote in elections. A number of bills have been introduced in the Alaska state legislature limiting that right. Our government is supposed to work for everyone, with attention to the needs and challenges of each and every individual. Everyone deserves to have a voice in a true participatory democracy. Yet, substantial systematic barriers remain for many Alaska voters. In the 2022 elections, rural and predominantly Native districts saw roughly one in eight ballots rejected by the Division of Elections, with the percentage of ballots not counted as high as 17% in Bethel. This may be because voters made errors on their ballots, such as failing to include a witness signature and were not allowed to fix their ballot. The result of these errors means the disenfranchisement of voters across Alaska.
We must eliminate all systemic barriers to voting for Alaskans. One way to do so is to protect Ranked-Choice Voting in Alaska, which gives voters more agency in their choices and encourages a more diverse set of candidates to run. The passage of Senate Bill 19 would greatly benefit voters by requiring the Division of Elections to pay for return postage for absentee ballots, allow for ballot-curing for problems with signatures, and create a ballot-tracking system. This bill would also create a robust process for voters to “cure” their mail-in ballots. Voters could correct any errors on their ballot, such as forgetting to include a witness signature on absentee ballots. Keeping elections accessible to voters is the foundation for creating a more just and equitable future. This month, think about an issue that you care about and try to find a way to make a difference. As we celebrate the work of Black, Afro-Latino, and Indigenous leaders in the fight for equity and equality, we also have the opportunity to be more proactive in ensuring democracy itself can be a more accessible and equitable process for all Alaskans.
We can be the tools for change, for racial justice and for climate justice. For more information on voting and Democracy issues, go to akcentereducationfund.org/democracy/ to get involved!
Jasmine Carter is the daughter of Mexican and Costa Rican immigrants, born and raised here in Alaska. She is the South-Central Civic Engagement Organizer at The Alaska Center Education Fund.