Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Selma and the Right to Vote

I love to vote. It may not have become apparent to the lovely people on this trip yet (although I highly doubt it), but I love politics and I REALLY love voting. I am that weird person that looks forward to Election Day every midterm and primary season. I get giddy walking into a voting booth. I read candidate profiles religiously. On Election Day I am tuned into every news channel waiting for election results. The very first thing I did on my eighteenth birthday was register to vote and I have yet to miss an opportunity to vote in an election.

Voting to me is the primary way I interact in the democracy I call my home. It is so important to me that my voice be heard. Voting is the most basic and fundamental way that the voices of the citizenry is heard. It keeps politicians honest and allows for citizens of every walk of life to participate in the governmental process. Growing up, my mom emphasized how important voting was. She would bring me into the voting booth with her every time she could. As a child she always told me that it was less than a century ago that women could not vote; that I should never take for granted the right bestowed upon me by those who came before me and suffered greatly for that right. Obviously that lesson stuck.

Today we visited Selma, Alabama, where the voting rights movement started. The history there is truly amazing and inspiring.  I cannot imagine what it would be like for someone to tell me that I cannot vote. That I do not have that right as a citizen of this country but that others of a supposedly superior race or gender do. It is unfathomable. The embarrassment, the despair, the longing, the frustration…I cannot imagine any of it because I have never had to experience such things. I value my right to participate in this democracy above most things. It is a part of me. I would quite literally feel bereft without the right to participate fully in this important process. That is why this part of our trip hit me particularly hard. These people knew the feelings of despair and longing and frustration and fought so that I will not ever have to. I owe these people a debt of gratitude and it may never be paid in full.

Those who fought so hard and valiantly for the right to vote are my heroes. It angers me that they didn’t always have the right in the first place. That things like the poll tax and literacy tests existed is maddening. That is why when I see legislation put forth by state governments to make it more difficult to register to vote I go crazy. I see the literal blood, sweat, and tears that went into conferring the right to vote being slowly pulled back and dismissed and it angers me. And that is why when the Supreme Court struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 I went on a triad for days. The very act that people died and suffered trying to pass is being stripped of its power. The Court deemed the provisions no longer necessary; they said it burdened the states too much. What about the burden of the voter? These provisions are still as necessary today as the day they were passed and they are being taken away.  

It is true that my peers do not value voting. Politics is boring and dry at times. Most politicians talk just to hear their own voices at times. But if we as a generation do not start participating actively in the voting process we are doomed to repeat one of the most ugly parts of our national history. I sometimes take this right for granted; I think it will always be there but the right to vote is not secure. It will never be secure unless all of us take hold of our rights and use them to further our interests and needs. There are very powerful people that will do almost anything to take the right to vote out of the hands of those who most need it. And what is even more frustrating is that we as a citizenry are letting them. We are failing those who fought and died for this right. We are letting their struggles be in vain.

I cried while watching the video about the march from Selma to Montgomery and I honestly cannot say why exactly. But I do know that I will never ever relinquish my right to vote. And I will never again think of my right as something that is mandatory. It was less than a century ago that it wasn’t mandatory and my generation has forgotten that. I will fight for my right and the rights of others to have their voices heard. Social status, gender, race are not prerequisites of voting – but if we’re not careful it soon will be again.

Visiting Selma was amazing to say the very least. My desire and passion for voting rights was reignited. This may sound clich├ęd but I don’t care…I will not fail those who suffered and died for this right. And I will do my best to make sure that no one will ever have to suffer and die for this right again.

So, to my fellow trip members…if you’re not registered to vote, go register! It is so easy and takes very little time. And to those who are registered…VOTE! Voting keeps these people’s memories alive and well. It is a civil right, a product of the movement we are studying. By voting, you are participating in this process you are exercising the rights that many fought so hard for. By voting you further the civil rights movement and carry it on for future generations. 

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