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The Dream Defenders have an important message for young voters of color: vote or die. The Florida-based group caused quite a stir after sponsoring a billboard near the state capital in Tallahassee that shows a young Black boy in a bulletproof vest with the tagline, “Vest or Vote.”

The Dream Defenders, a political action group aimed at developing young activists, also released a video showing a mother asking her teenaged son to put on a bulletproof vest before he goes to school so she won’t have to worry about his safety. The video also informs viewers, “Every 28 hours an African American is killed by a police officer, security officer, or vigilante,” while news clips from the murders of Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, and Michael Brown play in the background.

Some have called the video alarmist and accused it of “race baiting,” but Dream Defenders political director Ciara Taylor said it was necessary.

“The campaign is reminiscent of Malcolm X’s “The Ballot or the Bullet” speech,” Taylor explained to WLRN. “What we’re trying to do, and I think that we’ve done, is spark conversation around the importance of voting and how it directly correlates to our everyday lives.”

Taylor also highlighted the connection between voting and keeping our youth safe.

“Both sides of the aisle are voting in favor of laws like Stand Your Ground, like zero-tolerance policies, and laws that will allow for the children of parents of color to be targeted and profiled in their communities,” she said.

“So, when we say #VestOrVote, we mean it. We mean that you need to vote, or you need to come to the realization that your child may soon need to wear a vest just to be safe in their own community. “

Voters of color and young people turned out in droves during both the 2008 and 2012 cycles in what became known as “the Obama coalition.” Unfortunately, these groups traditionally have lower turnout numbers in non-presidential election years. The Dream Defenders and other organizations like the NAACP and the New Georgia Project hope to change this trend.

While there are encouraging signs that more African Americans and young people will head to the polls next Tuesday, activists aren’t taking any chances. Even President Obama weighed in on the subject when he called into an Atlanta radio station to remind folks of the sacrifices of those who came before them.

“You think about what the civil rights movement meant in Georgia, the notion that less than half of your people vote doesn’t make any sense whatsoever,” the president said.

With several tight races across the country it remains to be seen if the push to encourage people to vote or die will actually work.


Will you be heading to the polls on Tuesday

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