Voting is the great equalizer.
Regardless of a person’s standing, their vote is counted in the same manner as everyone else’s. The right to vote empowers each of us. This idea of a true representative democracy set America apart from other nations at its inception. A government of, by, and for the people.
Despite this ideal, we have struggled throughout our history as a nation to ensure that all Americans have equal access to the ballot box. While we are taught from a young age about our constitutional right to vote, in our hearts we feel as though the current system is rigged. Racist policies intended solely to suppress African-Americans’ ability to vote are a shameful part of our past, and a dangerous part of our current political system.
The brave women and men of the civil rights movement felt it would be better to die than to live with the injustice of poll taxes, literacy tests, and other practices that were designed to keep African-Americans from voting. They marched across the bridge in Selma knowing that they would face violence and hatred. But they did not hesitate, because they knew that the promise of a more equal future lay ahead of them. They endured pain and suffering that no one should have to bear — and they endured it for the generations that would come after them.
Out of these dark hours came the dawn of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. We celebrate the 50th anniversary of this landmark legislation this year. Never before had so many people been empowered and enfranchised in one sweeping law. This was a hard-fought victory brought about by the greatest social movement in our nation’s history. This law was built on generations of work and a 400-year-long fight for equal treatment under the law. It has been called the most effective legislation of the last 50 years.
Democracy is not frozen in time. It is in perpetual motion, with forces and counter-forces pushing and pulling throughout history. Today, tomorrow and forever we must work to protect and strengthen our democracy. If we are not vigilant, we know that right-wing forces led by the Koch brothers and other high-dollar special interests will succeed in helping those at the top while marginalizing so many others.
Voter suppression laws around the country are passed under the guise of election integrity. We know election integrity is not their real purpose. This is a coordinated, explicit attempt to suppress voters’ rights. In addition, gerrymandered legislative districts try to flip the electoral process on its head by letting politicians select their voters instead of the voters deciding on their representation. The GOP is chipping away at the core foundation of our nation’s principles.
Until all of our citizens have the American guarantee — regardless of race, age, zip code, or birth nation — of an equal freedom to vote, our friends and neighbors will not truly have been granted the promise of the American Dream. Until we have achieved an equal freedom to vote, we will not be able to effect true policy changes in the areas that will direct our planet’s future: income inequality, education, environmental protections and economic growth.
We must each pledge today to uphold our moral obligation to increase access to voting and to work toward a more fair society.