We as a people must reconstruct the meaning and the importance of voting. For many, the perception of civics and the perception of voting have been damaged and altered. Many believe that casting a ballot is the beginning and end of one’s civic duty. Yet even more believe that their vote does not matter. In reality, our vote does matter. When it comes to major or minor elections, our vote matters. When a candidate runs for office, even one vote from us as citizens can make all the difference in an outcome.
Not long ago we met with the Mayor of Tacoma, Washington. Mayor Victoria Woodards explained that having the right to vote is a privilege. It is a privilege because of the sacrifices it took to get the right to vote. During the Civil Rights Movement, mothers, fathers, children and grandparents all sacrificed their time and health to contribute their hearts and minds to a right which we have today. Others were lynched, pushed, beaten, hosed, murdered, trampled over and mocked. But by utilizing cultural/spiritual power, economic and political power, these valiant men and women were able to accomplish securing of the right to vote. Through the dedication and work of those who have gone before us, they made sure that future generations would have the power to change realities with the casting of their ballots.
We have forgotten their stories. We have forgotten to broaden our consciousness by studying and honoring the struggle and the hardship it took to get voting rights and to limit voter suppression.
Part of the work we do involves getting our peers registered in our schools. When we set up tables for registration at school, countless students pass and ignore our table– even though they know that our table sign reads: Register to Vote. We have even found some students will lie about their age when asked if they are able to register to vote. This response reflects how we as a people have developed a relationship with the common narrative that our vote does not matter.
There are two realities this attitude stems from. The first reality is the reality of complacency. When people respond with our vote does not matter, it can be utilized as an excuse. The power of voting can change many injustices in America such as police brutality, childhood poverty, the separation of families, the countless wars in America and many more. Voting has the power to elect politicians who are willing to work for the people. However, instead of organizing ourselves, we are trained to follow patterns of living life oblivious, distracted, and indifferent to the issues that have direct and indirect effects on all of us. We live in the comfort of our own phones, social media, of the brand of our clothes, of luxurious destinations and vacation.
We have created normalized comforts within our personalities as well. We are being raised on a culture of not speaking up, of being shallow, and of being good reliable consumers. Most importantly, we are not being challenged to love one another. All these things draw our hearts and minds to the idea that it is much easier to care about ourselves, to remain content, and to not vote. This easily creates the shallow mindset of being individualistic, lacking in a global perspective. This is when voting becomes the last thing on someone’s list.
The other reality from which the statement stems is hopelessness. Too many of our young people leave schools with a sense of hopelessness. This reflects deep flaws in our educational systems. Not only do our schools play a role in the miseducation of students, but they it is common to see that Black, brown and poor students are often excluded and pushed out. Education that creates hopelessness often breeds competition in any aspect which is measurable. As well as creating segregation between those who are set for success, and the ones set for failure. This results in the very systems that should support us, actively turned against us. Here I am referring to the justice system, employment and hiring systems, the health system, the political system and sometimes even our family systems. It is not surprising to see how these are the same people who lose faith and hope in politics. And as they lose faith in themselves, voting no longer seems like a solution.
The continuation of hopelessness and complacency can no longer continue. Our people’s suffering and our history are proof of this. We must exercise the right to vote. And if you are too young or not able to vote, you can inspire those who can vote, to vote. Every vote matters.