More than ‘a vote’


I believe those of us who are more chronically advanced, politically oriented or who, out of a sense of obligation to our predecessors, routinely vote with the regularity of “Old Faithful,” sometimes fail to understand that others haven’t learned or been taught the significance of The Vote.

I don’t condemn those who have a less than complete understanding of voting – I question those of us who have forgotten to teach.

The reason for resistance

Something others want to deny you or in which they want to prevent you from participation is important, especially to them. We can see this played out historically in education, jobs and voting.

To understand the real importance of voting, we must quickly review the voting process before 1965.

Ratified in 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution prohibited states from denying a male citizen the right to vote based on “race, color or previous condition of servitude.” This amendment could change the law, but it could not change the hearts and minds of those who were entrenched in the belief in racial superiority. Many will also forget that women had to wait until 1920 to receive the right to vote.

Those who so believed and administered the voting process in states and localities established extra-legal methods to prevent African Americans from voting. Most notable of these methods were literacy tests which required unreasonable factual knowledge such as reciting the Constitution, or reciting with perfect accuracy specific facts about state laws.

Some “tests” were as ridiculous as stating the number of beans in a large jar or the number of bubbles that could be created by a bar of soap. These tests were used to disqualify African-American voters, but they were not administered to Whites.

In the aftermath of the brutal, bloody events on the Edmund Pettus Bridge and other violent deaths in the struggle to gain the unencumbered voting rights, the 1965 Voting Rights Act became law.

Fast forward to today

What do we give up without the unencumbered right to vote?
We give up the right to select a candidate of our choice. But what peripheral losses will we experience?

Statistically, progressive voters outnumber conservative voters by a wide margin. By needing to overcome voter apathy inspired by a “lack of excitement” or the failure of candidates to pass a 100 percent litmus tests of political purity, we have surrendered our polling place power. Our acceptance of the belief that “our votes don’t count” surrenders our lives to those who have no concerns about our or our children’s future.

Probably our most significant loss is in the judicial arena. The civil rights community has depended upon the reasoned judgment of a judiciary with a dedication to upholding the law for all citizens instead of one committed to conservative partisan interests.

Court decisions limiting the rights of the masses exemplified by  Citizens United, upholding Republican Party gerrymandering, and loosening the enforcement guidelines of the Voting Rights Act all stand in stark contrast to the expansion of rights engendered by the  Brown v. Board decision.

Failing to vote or allowing petty considerations to prevent us from voting with others who share our short- and long-term interests, we choose to live life by default – accepting only what others offer us. Our offering to our children is the same.

Dr. E. Faye Williams is national chair of the National Congress of Black Women, Inc.
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