NBA superstar LeBron James and a group of other prominent black athletes and entertainers are creating a group aimed at protecting African Americans’ voting rights to help amplify their voices for the upcoming 2020 presidential election.
What We Know:
- James announced on Wednesday that the creation of this new group, named “More Than a Vote”, is geared towards energizing and encouraging black Americans to register and vote in November while also exposing voter suppression tactics, such as misinformation spread through social media.
- James has long said that he believes his greatest legacy will come from his off-the-court achievements with continued efforts to give back to his community. This includes pouring millions of dollars into his native Ohio, assisting low-income students to attend the University of Akron, and opening his own school, I Promise, which worked to help at-risk children in Akron close the achievement gap with their peers. But, this new organization represents James’ most significant foray into politics.
- James’ political involvement has been limited to speaking out on social media and appearing at a rally during Hilary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. With the anger and frustration that was born out of the recent death of Geroge Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police and the unrest that has followed, James was convinced that right now is the time for action. During an interview with the New York Times, James said, “because of everything that’s going on, people are finally starting to listen to us… we’re getting some ears and some attention and this is the time for us to finally make a difference.”
- Jocelyn Benson, the Michigan Secretary of State and an advisory to the group, told the Times that this organization “will go beyond registering people to vote and talking about the importance of voting” by also “actively combating voter suppression”. This mimics James’ interview with the Times, saying “we’re going to give you the tutorial. We’re going to give you the background of how to vote and what they’re trying to do, the other side, to stop you from voting”.
- This past Tuesday in Georgia, African American communities in and around Atlanta faced voting troubles that some activists and community leaders deemed as intentional in an act of voter suppression. Hundreds stood in line for hours in these counties and multiple locations had difficulties with machines that weren’t working and provisional ballots that were in short supply. James addressed this act of voter suppression on Twitter Tuesday afternoon, attributing it to structural racism.
Everyone talking about “how do we fix this?” They say “go out and vote?” What about asking if how we vote is also structurally racist? https://t.co/GFtq12eKKt
— LeBron James (@KingJames) June 9, 2020
- “More Than A Vote” will be organized as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization and is not engaged in specific advocacy for a particular candidate, but is working to more broadly change the political world. With that being said, while James has not yet talked with the presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, he did not rule against appearing on the campaign trail.
- James told the Times he has found only willing ears in his recruiting conversations to join the board of the organization. James has received support from former and current athletes Trae Young, Skylar Diggins-Smith, Jalen Rose, Eric Bledsoe, Draymond Green, Alvin Kamara, Udonis Haslem, Sam Perkins, Chiney Ogwumike, and Stephen Jackson as well as ESPN NBA analyst Kendrick Perkins and comedian Kevin Hart as well as speaking to multiple musicians.
- Also on the board of the nonprofit are Adam Mendelsohn, a former political strategist and longtime advisor of James, and Addisu Demissie, who served as campaign manager for U.S. Senator Cory Booker’s 2020 presidential run and Gavin Newsom’s 2018 gubernatorial campaign in California.
- “More Than a Vote” plans to pair with voting rights organizations already established like “When We All Vote” and “Fair Fight”, launched by Georgia Democrat Stacy Abrams, in an assortment of swing states to amplify the message and connect with more voters.
Big news! @KingJames joins the fight against voter suppression & to get folks registered & out to vote!
“The organization will team up with voting organizations, including @WhenWeAllVote”
We need everyone in this fight to get it it done.
— Kyle Lierman (@Kyle_Lierman) June 10, 2020
We look forward to working with @KingJames and other professional athletes in More Than a Vote to stop voter suppression and protect the right to vote for Black voters across the country. https://t.co/XyDvTxSqBT
— Fair Fight (@fairfightaction) June 11, 2020
- Trae Young, a 21-year-old with the Atlanta Hawks, told the Times he is excited to join the group and “be a role model for his generation”. He also addressed the fact that in 2016 black voter turnout fell drastically, specifically with younger black voters and particularly men. Hoping to combat that he says, “if people my age see that I’m going out and I’m voting and I’m talking, maybe the next 21-year-old will”.
- The group will rely heavily on social media to engage in advocacy with James saying he will use his high-profile on the platforms to be vocal and draw attention to any attempts to restrict the franchise of racial minorities. His social media following is unrivaled among most American athletes with over 136 million followers across his Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts, closing lining up with the estimated 138 million Americans who voted in the 2016 election.
While there has been no formal announcement on the next steps of the group, James urges his followers to be a part of the change. “There’s a lot of people that want change in the black community,” James said, “but if you actually don’t put in the work or if you don’t have the mindset, there’s never going to be change”.