OP-ED: Take Your Souls to the Polls


Tuesday is Election Day and it is time to vote. If you fail to show up, your vote still counts, but in support of those you oppose.

For African Americans, the right to vote has always been contested. We had to fight to win the right to cast our ballots. We had no right to vote under the original Constitution, although states could count slaves as three-fifths of a person in determining congressional representation. It took the Civil War and the first reconstruction to abolish slavery and give African Americans the right to vote.

For a short period after the war, multi-racial coalitions running under the Republican banner (the party of Lincoln) elected officials across the defeated states of the confederacy. That spurred a fierce reaction. The Ku Klux Klan terrorized African Americans seeking to assert their rights and whites who dared to join with them.

Jim Crow laws enforced various ways to keep blacks from voting — poll taxes, history tests, ID requirements. A corrupt deal at the federal level ended the Reconstruction and abetted the reaction. The South turned to apartheid, legal segregation, with the Civil Rights Amendments gutted. It took decades, a powerful civil rights movement, and the sacrifice of many — Dr. King and others — to move Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act. And under Lyndon B. Johnson, a second reconstruction began to fulfill the guarantee of equal opportunity. That, too, triggered a fierce reaction. Gerrymandering was used to weaken the power of the Black vote.

Nixon’s Southern strategy perfected race bait politics to consolidate control, with the Republican Party becoming a party of white sanctuary. But the movement kept building, and with the election of Barack Obama and the emergence of a majority built upon people of color, single women and young voters, a third reconstruction beckoned. Again, the resistance was fierce and immediate. Public schools were starved for funds and then large numbers were shut and privatized. The conservative five on the Supreme Court gutted the key part of the Voting Rights Act that required prior review of election law changes.

Republican governors and legislators immediately pushed new measures to suppress the vote. Those of us who have lived that history and fought those battles desperately want the young to understand how important their vote is. The insult of people still trying to lock us out should be enough to arouse us to get to the polls. But while people may appreciate the history and feel the insult, they understandably want to vote about their future.

More will vote because of hope rather than because of history or insult. And hope is not widespread in an America, where outside the richest one percent, few of us have seen much evidence of the so-called recovery. Many are turned off; many want to cast a protest vote. That’s why the choice is so important: it’s not just about the martyrs of the past, but for about what matters for the future. So let’s be clear.

We would have a higher minimum wage today, but Republicans blocked it. We would be rebuilding the country and putting people to work, but Republicans blocked it. We would have millions more Americans with health care but Republican governors refused to expand Medicaid, even though the federal government would cover most of the cost.

We’d have comprehensive immigration reform today, moving millions from living in the shadows, but Republicans blocked it. We’d be investing in universal all day free pre-kindergarten and affordable day care, but Republicans said no. A protest vote cast by staying home will strengthen the very people whose positions are what you want to protest. Make your voice heard and your vote count.

Take your souls to the polls. Email: [email protected]


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