To the Youngins Planning Not to Vote

 

Afro-Americans attempting to vote in Alabama

Reflections of a Reformed Non-Voter

I get it. Up until I was in my late thirties, I could’ve given a shit about politics. As far as I was concerned all politicians were corrupt and could give a shit about me so it didn’t matter. I had my own life to live & taking the time to go to a polling place just to cast a useless ballot? I had far more important things to do.

It amazes me now when I think back on how certain I was of my position. Voting was a waste of time because I felt it didn’t make a difference.  So I understand. I’ve been your age. But I ask you for a few minutes to suspend this kind thinking and remember that you have not yet been mine. And only if you’re lucky will you get to be. For a few moments, I’m asking you to listen to your elder.

Far be it for me to try and lecture young people on what they should or shouldn’t do with their lives. Anyone who knew me then would agree that the fact that I survived that whole period is a miracle in and of itself. And in one piece, and my soul in tact.  No doubt. So I’m not coming from any lofty place of knowledge to bestow upon you.

I just want to share a few observations that changed my view over the years and helped me realize things that actually did matter for my life and, ultimately that of the lives of my children, who fall within the age group I’m speaking to here.

I write this because time taught me that my previous views about voting were only partially informed and I’ll attempt to fill in the holes that I later realized that I missed. First of all, I realized that when I was three years old, my parents couldn’t vote legally. There were all kinds of discriminatory Jim Crow laws designed to keep Black people from voting.  Black men and women took their lives in their hands if they dared to go to the polling place. The obvious reason that some folks didn’t want Black people to vote is because they would vote for people who would pass legislation that would benefit them.

When I pondered why there was such an effort to keep certain people from the polling place, I had to concede that, in spite of the evidence that brought me to my indifferent stance, voting must matter. And the fact that I was actually born on this planet while some of these things were still happening was a little jarring for me when my eyes opened. That was just the crack in the veneer of my strongly-held position on voting. Remembering the sacrifices of those who went before me. An interwoven mix of ancestors without whom neither I nor my friends would exist.

When I looked a little deeper at the history of voting rights and the reasons behind all the turmoil, it was clear that, in spite of the obvious gamesmanship that is the body politic, a certain faction was consistent in their efforts to keep the portion of the population that would likely vote against them from voting. Without delving into the pit of political party policies over the centuries, I’ll just say that the group that consistently worked against voting rights for all American citizens often represented the interests of the rich, the White, and the male.

The Women’s Suffrage movement was fought over 100 years before women were allowed the vote in 1920. Pioneers like Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Ida B. Wells, just to name a few, spent their lives and died still fighting for the cause for voting & civil rights. The violence inflicted upon citizens merely trying to exercise their democratic right to vote is an alarming reminder of the lengths some will go to in order to control the inalienable rights of others. Why? I had to ask myself, why, if my vote didn’t matter would such powerful forces put so much effort into keeping me from doing it?

Women Fighting to Vote

Circa 1900

Calling out the hypocrisy Of Woodrow Wilson

Wilson wanted to export democracy that was denied at home

Now, at this point I had to reexamine the evidence I thought I had to support that voting didn’t matter. From my observations during the 1990s when I had this epiphany, both political parties seemed to be playing the same game. Do or say what you have to, to get the majority of people to vote for you.

But once they got in they would do more of the same in order to get elected again. There were backroom deals & bodies buried and I wanted no parts of that. And that pretty much summed it up for me. Why then all the efforts to keep me from voting? If it really all was the same, why?

I mean, people died, actually gave their lives fighting for the right to vote. Fighting and dying so that we, their progeny, would have the right to vote. My own mother marched on Washington with Martin Luther King for the rights that, up to that point, had been denied her. As a Black woman, she was forbidden to vote and forbidden to live with rights equal to White citizens simply because she was a Black woman. I can only imagine this would be almost impossible to conceive of for someone of your age because you’ve never experienced it.

Maybe you learned about James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman in school. And maybe not considering the state of our current educational system (due largely to the policies of the same guys who don’t want you to vote). These three young men, found by the local Choctaw buried in an earthen dam, beaten & shot to death, were in Mississippi to register people to vote. I can’t imagine the horror that was felt by these young men as they realized they would die that night, the torture they endured at the hands of those who would deny them their lives, much less the right to vote.

I thought about my own high school friends of all races and how that experience wouldn’t have been possible if the terrorists had their way. There would have been no college-level courses, camping trips, January project (where we worked in our chosen field for the month of January), cutting class with Ed Bangs, us all piling  into the VW van hanging out. None of that would have been my experience if those who would kill to suppress the vote, succeeded. It wouldn’t have been my experience or my children’s.

 Scwerner, Cheney and Goodman
They gave their young lives for black voting rights
Fanny Lou Hamer Testifying at 1964 Democratic Convention

Telling a horrible tale of black voter suppression in Mississippi

 And even now, those same factions who perpetually fight for the rich, the White and the male, are trying to retract the gains made from these struggles, even in 2012. They are relentless and have spanned the centuries since before Lincoln emancipated the slaves. Extreme efforts made since 2000 to disenfranchise voters are listed at the end of this essay.

Millions of people worked together across, race, class & cultural lines, willing to put themselves in harm’s way to make sure that every citizen had this right. If my vote really didn’t matter then there wouldn’t be this continuing battle. The more I thought about it, the more I felt like I was spitting in their faces with my blatant & misinformed disregard for the hard fought right to vote. The struggles of my predecessors & their great triumphs really did matter.

Me, sitting their complaining about a corrupt government, citing evidence, ignoring the gains that had been made on my behalf. I could go anywhere, eat anywhere, register for any school, and shop at any store, among many other things that I was completely taking for granted. Things could’ve been very different for me. It is the right to vote that got people into office who would make these things so. Otherwise, would I even be allowed to write this? Would any of us be able to freely express our opinions if a certain faction had their way? I’m not so sure.

So, yeah, all the politicians are playing a similar game. They have to. I think about the new lawyers, police officers, politicians who jump into the game excited and ready to change things but soon realize that there are rules. You either play or get out. But the really talented ones work the rules to their advantage and ultimately fulfill their goals of helping others, like Barack Obama.

There are clear differences in vision for the country between the two parties and this year they’re particularly stark.  So, maybe the Mayans were right and we won’t be here after December 21, 2012. Maybe the aliens will land and take us with them or destroy us. Or maybe the Rapture will take up the believers and leave the rest of us here in a hellish, Mad Max world where voting really won’t matter. Maybe Occupy Wall Street will hit critical mass and the people will overtake corrupt governments and we can start this shit all over again.

Or maybe none of that will happen. Maybe we’ll still be here on November 7, 2012, in a country that needs us to continue to fulfill its dream … a dream that is the hope for many all around the globe. An interactive, living dream in which many great people have given everything to realize for everyone.

I ask you as you — sitting in your comfy room, a home with heat & air … running water, no bombs exploding outside, using your iPad, listening to your iPod, planning whatever it is you get to choose to do next – while you get to complain about how my generation fucked things up (and I wouldn’t completely disagree) think about James, Michael, and Andrew & the millions of others who fought & died for this right to vote … that doesn’t matter. What reason would you give them for not interrupting your relatively cushy life just to go and cast a ballot? You don’t like the candidates? It makes no difference?

Considering the concerted efforts of Republicans to suppress citizens’ right to vote, I’d say they think it matters too. And they’re blatantly, in our faces, passing legislation that goes against the Constitution, amounting to a poll tax for citizens to vote. There’s no doubt that your future will be vastly different depending upon which candidate is elected on November 6.

You don’t have to believe me. Just google back almost 4 years ago when our country was dangling off a cliff and threatening to take the rest of the world’s economy with them. Specifically due to the policies that Republicans are salivating to implement again!  Add to those the suppression of women’s health rights, gutting education & probably war in Iran.  There is no question that President Obama and the Democrats offer a better direction for the country than the Grand Obstructionist Party.

That is the point I want you to consider. I’m asking you to stretch your young, cynical minds and think about the Consequences of your decision not to vote.  For in the end the quality of your life, or even life itself, may well depend on it.  It is, after all, your future that you are leaving for others to decide.

All the news reports tell us the racist who despise President Obama, and all people of color, and would return women to reproductive slavery, are enthusiastic about voting for the Mormon Bishop Mitt Romney.  These are people who do not have your interests at heart.  By not voting you will become an ally of those who seek your demise!  And you will have forfeited any right to complain about what follows.

This is what young black people had to endure to vote

The Voting Rights Act f 1965 changed all That

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The Republican Record of Voter Supression

 

2000: Republican-directed disenfranchisement of Blacks in Florida.

Prior to the election of 2000, Jeb Bush the Republican Governor of Florida — and brother of Presidential candidate George Bush — hires a private company long associated with the Republican party to “purge” the Florida voting rolls of “ineligible” voters. Along with voters who really are ineligible, tens of thousands of legally registered Black voters are illegally stripped from the rolls. When they arrive at the polls on election day, they are told they cannot vote.

This denial of voting rights to African-American voters in Florida is the direct cause of George Bush’s supposed 537 vote “victory” in that state. It is this phony “win” (plus the votes of the 5 Republican appointees on the Supreme Court) that makes him President, even though Gore receives 500,000 more votes nation-wide than Bush.

According to the report issued by the U.S. Commission on Civil rights:

  Widespread voter disenfranchisement — not the dead-heat contest — was the extraordinary feature in the Florida election.

  Violations of the Voting Rights Act occurred in Florida and there was widespread denial of voting rights.

  Black voters were nearly 10 times more likely than non-Black voters to have their ballots rejected.

  The state’s highest officials responsible for ensuring fairness in the election failed to fulfill their responsibilities and were subsequently unwilling to take responsibility.

Had tens of thousands of Black voters not been illegally denied their right to vote, Democratic candidate Al Gore would certainly have carried the state by a comfortable margin — and he would have been President.

Today: Voting rights and the criminal justice system

1.4 million Black men (13% of adult African-American males) are denied the right to vote because they served time in prison. In 5 states (including Florida) more than one-in-four adult male African-Americans are disenfranchised. Latinos and Native-Americans are similarly affected.

From 1980 to 2000 the number of prisoners in the U.S. increased by more than 300% (while total population increased by only 24%). At the present rate of incarceration, the U.S. Department of Justice estimates that 6.6% of Americans born in 2001 will spend time in prison. This is the highest incarceration rate in the world.

Despite having served their sentences and paid their penalties, many states disenfranchise ex-prisoners after their release:

14 states disenfranchise former inmates for life.
32 states disenfranchise former inmates while on parole.
29 states disenfranchise former inmates on probation.

Today: Voter Suppression

Beginning with the bitterly-contested Presidential election of 2000, political parties are increasingly devoting energy and money towards “suppressing” the turnout of demographic groups who traditionally favor the other side. The Republican Party is particularly active in targeting naturalized immigrant citizens, Blacks, Latinos, and those seniors who traditionally vote Democratic. Suppression tactics include both legal ploys and outright deceit. Some examples include:

  • Voter ID laws. In a number of states, Republicans have passed laws      requiring voters to show a photo-ID before they can cast their ballots.      These laws discourage voting by the elderly and poor who are less likely      to own a car and are thus less likely to posses a valid drivers license or      other form of photo ID.
  • Targeted voter purges. In Georgia and other states,      minority, immigrant, and college-student voters have been      disproportionately “purged” from the rolls on various pretexts.
  • Deceit.      Political “dirty tricks” are increasingly being used by both      parties to suppress voter turnout of those who tend to favor the other      side. Examples include false notification that polling places have been      changed, directing voters to phony email or web addresses where they can      supposedly vote online, conducting voter-registration drives and then      failing to turn in those forms where a voter registered for the opposing      party, mass-mailings of counterfeit absentee ballots with false return      addresses, and so on.

Tomorrow: The fight to have our votes count.

In the 19th and 20th Centuries we fought to expand the right to vote. The voting rights struggle of the 21st Century will be to have our votes count. Not the right to have our votes counted — though as we saw in Florida in 2000, that too may be a crucial issue — but rather the right to have our votes mean something.

  • The best democracy that money can buy. In the so-called Citizens      United v. Federal Election Commission, the Republican-appointed 5-vote      conservative majority on the Supreme Court decreed in 2010 that secret      unlimited corporate funding for political ads is a form of      Constitutionally protected “free speech.” This decision      dramatically shifts electoral influence away from individual voters by      allowing wealthy individuals and corporations to covertly buy the election      results they want with a flood of cash. At the same time, super-sized      corporate campaign contributions given directly to candidates have become      a legally-sanctioned form of outright bribery.

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Katrina Taylor

Kennesaw Georgia

November 5, 2012

 

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