“Vote for me! I’ll set you free.” The Temptation’s hit song, Ball of Confusion, led the music charts in 1970. Fifty-two years ago, the United States and especially black communities attempted to make sense of the Viet Nam War, riots and chaos in urban centers, and President Richard Nixon’s attempts to subvert the rule of law following the Watergate break-in to undermine a presidential election.
Since the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, states and municipalities have enacted a patchwork of laws to control who can vote. For many persons of color, poor, Native Americans, and immigrants, poll taxes were replaced by voter Identification laws. If a prospective voter does not have a driver’s license… or moved to a new address in the same city thirty days prior to the election, the state can challenge their voter status.
If a prospective voter has a state identification card, is a college student attending university in another state, lives in public housing, or does not have a valid driver’s license – challenges to voting are common experiences. The “founding fathers” forced the nation’s occupants (Native Tribes) to move further and further west. Reread those history books. Currently, too many Native Americans are denied the right to vote because they do not have a “street address” due to living on a reservation. Please do not have been incarcerated where you are stripped of your rights. How rights get restored varies from state to state.
Fifty-two years later, the United States and people (women, people of all colors, LGBTQIA, poor) are re-examining what we are voting for and, more importantly, equal access to voting. I have observed prospective voters attempting to respond to identification or address challenges on Election Days. Numerous polling place staff are knowledgeable, reasonable, and prepared to assist voters in casting a provisional ballot. Unfortunately, some polling place staff are there to ensure marginalized voters do not vote. Unless the polling place supervisors are constantly monitoring their voting staff, too many citizens are denied the right to cast a ballot.
We’ve learned along the way that voting is only one step in the processes of community change, enactment of better laws, and eradication of the patriarchal and racist systems that permeate the deep roots of the United States. Initially, indentured servants (Italians, Germans, Polish, etc.) worked for landowners until they earned their freedom and gained a foothold in segregated communities until they, too, earned a piece of the promised American dream.
At the same time, millions of enslaved Africans cultivated the land, cared for their children, and created inventions they took credit for until the War Between The States abolished chattel slavery only to substitute it with segregation, separate but equal laws, and disenfranchisement. As a result, the hard-fought Civil Rights legislation has been gutted and weakened over fifty-plus years.
And then we come to voting! Someone once said, “all politics is local .”Who the voters elect to the school board, the City Council and the County Board have the most control over what happens in the community. The locally elected officials set up gerrymandered political districts. They set up rules for who can vote. Locally elected officials set up polling places and hire/train/indoctrinate the people who operate the polling places.
Voting is the end of a prolonged process and the beginning of which political party or set of beliefs govern the cities, states, and nations we inhabit. I am encouraging us to rethink voting processes from beginning to end. If the end is rotten (look at all the manufactured reasons to strip identifiable groups or individuals of their right to vote), go back and address the roots of the system.
The years of chipping away at voting rights, anger, and disenfranchisement with the erosion of rights, candidates and elected officials who show up at our churches or social institutions only when they need a vote, YET, seldom follow through on their promises of change.
Elected officials’ responses to state and national mandates, laws, and political maneuvering impact your life. Vote! However, think carefully about who you are voting for and why. Let’s hold their feet to the fire. We haven’t gained total equality through our current practices.
“Vote for me! I’ll set you free.”
Joyce A. Brown is a motivational speaker and author who uses her creative energy to give voice and meaning to the challenges women face in all walks of life. She grew up in Rockford, Illinois in a household of strong women, but her professional career expanded her reach into Peoria and Battle Creek, Michigan. She is a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and has served as a direct services worker, executive director, program director for a major foundation, and entrepreneur. Joyce has experienced many uplifting moments as a professional and as a dedicated parent and strives to bring those events and lessons to life through her characters in the contemporary fiction novels she pens. Visit her Author’s Page