It’s no coincidence that President Joseph R. Biden, the country’s 46th Commander in Chief, and Vice President Kamala Harris, the country’s first African American Vice President and first female Vice President, were in my hometown Atlanta on the eve of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend. The pair of leaders publicly addressed a crowd at the Atlanta University Center — and the nation — about voting restrictions and the need to pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
“Years from now, our children and our grandchildren will ask us about this moment,” Harris said. “They will look back on this time, and they will ask us, not about how we felt. They will ask us what did we do? We cannot tell them that we let a Senate rule stand in the way of our most fundamental freedom. Instead, let us tell them that we stood together.”
The restrictions put in place in Georgia by the current Republican-dominated State Senate may exist, but that doesn’t mean Georgians — and for that matter, anyone, anywhere — has to take those restrictions lying down. There is power in numbers. If the vote wasn’t important, there wouldn’t be political factions working so hard to stop people from exercising their right to do it.
Growing up and attending a Baptist church, there was a hymnal that I fondly remember: “When we all get to Heaven” by E.E.Hewitt. The song speaks of rejoicing, singing, and shouting for victory. In a way, voting is victory. It’s a choice. A choice that many that came before us did not have — and fought to keep once they earned that right.
I often reflect on the marches and uprisings that people of all ages participated in to protest the senseless killing of Black men and women in the last few years. Those protesters succeeded in shutting down businesses and disturbing traffic, ensuring that their voices were heard, and their presence recognized. We all must recognize that our voices are amplified by being present. There’s no more legal and safer way to be recognized as a citizen of the United States of America than by exercising one’s right to vote.
We as African Americans often overlook the things that we should hold most dear, like the right to vote. The right to protest is important, but the right to vote comes with the blood of our ancestors.
While we celebrate many achievements and accomplishments as a people, we seemingly fail to recognize or acknowledge the sacrifices and challenges that our forefathers endured and overcame just to vote. My grandfather used to tell me of the challenges he and others faced to exercise their rights before and during the Civil Rights Era.
Today, obstacles, protocols, and legislations are being proposed/instituted to further impede those rights. These impediments include mail-in ballots, minimum voting locations in urban areas, a lack of voting boxes, and limited early voting opportunities. But there is no comparison between the hardships Black voters faced during my grandfather’s era and the one we are in now. We must take to the polls in massive numbers this year, if nothing else than to send a message that these “restrictions” will not work.
Only 78,643 Atlantans voted during the mayoral runoff election last November. That’s a very small percentage of the 447,800-plus registered voters in Atlanta, according to Ballotpedia. That level of participation won’t work in 2022.
The power of “we” is a lot stronger than the power of “I and my”. We must remember that on our way to the polls this year —and it’s not too soon to begin preparing to vote. Some state primaries take place as soon as February, and we must make the power of “we” heard in those primaries and on November 8, 2022, for the general election.
We must encourage our friends, family members, and for that matter, anyone who will listen, to exercise their rights to vote in their upcoming state and local elections. The local elections include judges and district attorneys, members of boards of education, and sheriffs. These positions are critical to local politics and those individuals affect our everyday lives and those of our children.
If we don’t vote, the people who are working to take away our civil rights win. That is just unacceptable to those who have gone before us and fought for the right to VOTE!
Janis L. Ware is the Publisher of The Atlanta Voice and this op-ed originally appeared on the Word in Black website.