Week 14: Voting Rights: Power to the People!

Week 14: Voting Rights: Power to the People!

Week fourteen 
Voting Rights: 
 Power to the People!
"So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote I do not possess myself. I cannot make up my mind - it is made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic citizen, observing the laws I have helped to enact - I can only submit to the edict of others.  So our most urgent request to the president of the United States and every member of Congress is to give us the right to vote."  - 
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "Give Us the Ballot."(1)
Sixty years since Dr. King made that statement, this nation is still urging its elected officials to make the ballot more accessible. It would be another eight years after this speech, that the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed, with an important pre-clearance provision to regulate Southern states that had notoriously implemented Jim Crow laws designed to thwart attempts and violently intimidate or kill African Americans looking to register to vote.
Clearly, there's a reason access to the ballot has been challenged. The vote is the one tool that gives its citizens equal voice, regardless of race, gender, religion, affluence or background, to make decisions on laws that govern their society.  Civil rights leader and now Congressman John Lewis stated, "The vote is the most powerful tool that we have in the democratic society.  That's why for hundreds of years people tried to make it impossible for women, for minorities to vote." (2)

In 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the  pre-clearance provision, setting up a swath of state laws leaving citizens once again prey to voter suppression and gerrymandering.  Soon after the 2012 mid-term elections, there were "electoral integrity" campaigns in states tagged to prevent voter fraud. The campaigns pushed for more identification requirements, limiting early voting periods, long voting lines and processing, and restricting voter registration drives.  In reality, these tactics have disenfranchised more minority and lower-income voters who were more likely to use those specific avenues to exercise their right to vote. (3) 
Even the recent Election Integrity Commission's request for voter data from the states has resulted in voter intimidation with citizens withdrawing their names from voter rolls to protect their privacy. Fortunately, 40 of the 50 states are contesting the request or filing legal action against it. (4)

What is needed now is direct action to revitalize interest in the power of the vote.  Low voter turnout is inexcusable in the face of decades of sacrifices made to earn this inalienable right that is so vital to our democracy.  Without equal voting, this country cannot truly live out its creed of freedom and justice for all. When our citizenry becomes disillusioned with its governing bodies, and/or its representatives, and loses faith that voting matters, it becomes susceptible to oligarchy, anarchy and self-implosion of ideals that built this country. Your vote matters.  Your voice matters.  We, the people, are accountable for our democracy and we must hold those we elect and our justice system accountable for preserving it. We must be informed, vigilant and unrelentingly persistent.
(1) Martin Luther King, Jr. " Give Us the Ballot," Address at the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom  
(2) Congressman John Lewis, The March @50, Episode 2: Voting Rights | Web Extra. PBS March on Washington Collection.
(3) " Statement by Elisabeth MacNamara, President, LWVUS at a Forum Entitled "Excluded from Democracy: The Impact of Recent State Voting Changes" at a  Forum Entitled "Excluded From Democracy: The Impact Of Recent State Voting Changes" Hosted By Representative John Conyers Ranking Member The House Judiciary Committee. November 14, 2011
(4) "Trump's election integrity commission needs to redress voter suppression, not fraud" by Nicol Turner-Lee. Brookings.edu. Wednesday, June 21, 2017.
  1. To learn more about the fight for voting rights in America, watch the full Episode 2 on Voting Rights from PBS' "The March @ 50" series.
  2. Want to know why your vote matters? Here are 10 reasons listed in the Huffington Post's article, "10 Reasons Why Your Vote Matters - More Than Ever," by Nancy Kaufman. November 2, 2016.
  3. Fairvote.com  lists some proven tactics to help others become more engaged in voting and increase voter turnout. Organize with others to implement these in your community.
The Power of Voting
To vote is to express a choice in an election or decision.  (1) 
A vote is like our voice, it is how we take part in making decisions in the world. 
(For Elementary Students) 
Until 1965, African Americans often were denied the right to vote.Learn about voting rights in the United States with a read aloud of Lillian's Right to Vote  by Jonah Winter .  
Watch this PBS Kids video from the YOU CHOOSE series, Presley Talks About Voting.


(For Middle and High School Students ) 
Head to your local or school library and check out this non-fiction You Choose book, The Voting Rights Act of 1965: An Interactive History Adventure by Michael Burgan. 
Watch this  NY Times video  on  the History of Voting Rights.   
For more information on the history of voting rights in the U.S. review this  Voting Timeline   from Scholastic.
(1) kids.wordsmyth.net 
To try an activity and find out more about voting, click below.   
Is there an approaching election in your area? Are you registered to vote? Why or why not? Tell your experience in voting or share a relative's story who has faced voter suppression, intimidation or violence during the Civil Rights Movement of the 20th century. Share your story. Be heard.

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