Detroit-based photojournalist Brittany Greeson embedded in one of the city’s ballot-counting centers last night to dispatch photos of vote-tallying and the protests they attracted. Two of her signature photos, commissioned by the New York Times and published last night, involved two African American voting officials standing against pro-Trump demonstrators who were demanding for the count to be stopped.
While viral, the photos did not speak to the identity of the two ballot center workers who embody the heightened tensions in America today. The lady standing in the door is Sommer Woods, a Talladega College alumna.
The gentleman is DeRone Buffington, a Morehouse College alumnus.
Their names won’t make the captions of the Times or most of the outlets that will run their photos today, and their courage isn’t sufficiently captured in these images for trying to preserve democracy for Biden and Trump supporters alike, even as they are divided on how that support best represents today’s democratic ideals.
But there they are, representing not just themselves, families, and communities; more than just their HBCUs or even Black America. They are representing the best of America — free and fair elections, opportunity and autonomy regardless of race, and free speech.
It may seem difficult, but this is democracy at work. This is how it has always worked for white men, and slowly through the generations, trickling down to women and racial minorities. Arguing, protesting, threatening each other, and eventually resolving to get things done is the American way.
Suggesting that the 60 million-plus voters who support Trump and his unique brand of division are what makes America broken is a disservice to the people, particularly the Black folks, who believe in America enough to volunteer and put their health and well-being on the line for the execution of the highest form of civic engagement. It is a disservice to the 70 million-plus people, particularly the Black folks, who exercised their right to vote and went the extra mile to ensure that others in our communities could do the same.
Democracy isn’t broken when it doesn’t go your way; it underscores the idea that you have a way to go that counts just as much as the way for any other American. Yes, that way gets exploited, suppressed, and marginalized, but too many Black people continue to believe in doing their part to make that road straight because at its best, it will work.
HBCUs produced too many freedom fighters and too many icons in the name of civil rights to suggest that their work is incomplete in the face of a close election. Buffington and Woods aren’t standing in harm’s way in Detroit for that kind of defeatist rhetoric.
If there’s a fight for what America could eventually be, a place where we go back and forth on ideas and values with civility and care for each other, I wouldn’t call this election or this climate a defeat. In these growing pains, I wouldn’t call two HBCU graduates versus a throng of angry white folks in Detroit a bad sign of things to come.
I’d call it a fair fight for the greater good.