I voted yesterday, Election Day Eve, at my city’s Board of Elections Commissioner’s office. I had errands to run yesterday, and I wanted to work uninterrupted today. So, I went to the third floor of City Hall and cast an in-person absentee ballot. I was happy to have the choice to vote early, yet the convenience of it did not in any way detract from the importance and the beauty of casting my vote.
The office is a small room, and when I arrived there were only a couple of people in line ahead of me. I took a number and filled out the requisite paperwork. As I was doing this, the office became full when a young woman and her children, and elder woman and another young man arrived. The staff was courteous and patient in explaining the process. The presence of the children reminded me of the days when my own children were young, and I took them with me to vote. When I was a girl, my mother would let me pull the levers, and I continued the tradition with my children.
Biblical wisdom teaches: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6) I take voting seriously; both of my children take it seriously; and I expect that the example this young mother is setting for her children will cause them to take it seriously.
As I sat in the office, the beauty of Election Day became clear to me. This young woman, the elder woman, the young man, and I were equal to any other American on this day. We each were equal to the richest billionaire who can drop several million dollars on a campaign advertising buy without blinking. We were equal to the owners of whatever business who have no moral compunction about telling their employees that if President Obama wins they may lose their jobs. This is political blackmail. On Election Day we have one vote each.
As an African-American woman, I do not take the privilege of voting for granted. My right to vote was hard won through Civil War, a women’s suffrage movement that took years to amend the US Constitution, and the civil rights movement. I remember Medgar Evers, a leader of the NAACP in Mississippi, who was killed for his work to register voters. I remember Fannie Lou Hamer who took a beating and who lost her housing and her livelihood because she insisted upon the right to vote. She and others were subjected to torture and terrorism because they wanted to be equal citizens.
In 1964, she was a member of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, a racially integrated delegation, that challenged the credentials of the all white delegation from Mississippi. They were offered a compromise that would have allowed two members of their delegation to be seated. Hamer and others objected. She said: “We didn’t come all this way for no two seats when all of us is tired.” The 1964 challenge led to a change in the party rules that required state delegations to be integrated.
Now the Democratic Party is the party of diversity – race, class, sex, sexual orientation – and this was the reason that President Obama was elected in 2008, and it may very well be the reason for his re-election this time around.
As I received my ballot and went to the voting station to fill it in, the elder woman sent one of the children to the car to get her glasses. I saw the past, present, and future converge. I had no doubt that the elder would vote with these children in mind. I knew that I would.
Pundits have called this a small, lackluster, uninspiring election with no big ideas. I could not disagree more. As I carefully filled in the ovals on my ballot, I thought of the Affordable Care Act and its importance to the 50 million Americans without health insurance, some of whom with preexisting conditions who would not be able to afford health insurance without the law. People die daily in the United States because they do not have health insurance. I thought about a woman’s right to make her own health-care decisions and about the push to give personhood to zygotes. This would mean that a woman’s body would belong to the state for the nine months that she is pregnant. I thought of the preservation of Medicare as it is.
Quiet as it is kept, this is not only an issue for today’s seniors and those nearing 65, but it will be an even more important issue for generation X and for the millennials because they are very likely to work their entire adult lives in jobs that will not offer them pensions. They will have 401ks for retirement that will not be nearly enough to live decently. They will be lucky to even have a 401k because they will probably change jobs frequently or even be independent contractors for much of their careers. They will not be able to afford to pay out of pocket beyond what a voucher would cover for their health care. These are large issues.
When I voted down ballot for the House of Representatives, I thought about the GOP inauguration night conspiracy. My vote is a vote against such pathetic small-minded thinking from small-minded men whose vision goes only as far as the next election. There is no law against plotting against one’s fellow citizens in the name of winning political power. We cannot bring a class action lawsuit against them in the name of the American people. With the exception of Al Sharpton’s questions to Newt Gingrich, I have not heard a journalist ask any of the people present in the room what they were thinking. I do not know why their very presence in the room does not disqualify them from opining about the relationship between the president and Congress.
However, as a voter, I can vote against the conspiracy. Continuing down ballot, I think of the state of our public schools; I think of who will interpret our laws as judges; I think of how our state constitution will be amended. I have my say, and this is important. I did not have to stand in a long line, but I am proud of the people in other places and in other states who are willing to do this. I understand their desire to have their say. We have come a long way from the days when Fannie Lou Hamer and others had to face violent intimidation in order to vote, but voter suppression efforts are still with us. And the world is watching.
Fannie Lou Hamer died in 1977. Toward the end of her life she was asked whether or not she thought the system would ever work properly. She said:
“We have to make it work. Ain’t nothing going to be handed to you on a silver platter, nothing. That’s not just black people, that’s people in general, masses. See, I’m with the masses. . . . You’ve got to fight. Every step of the way, you’ve got to fight.” (http://www.zcommunications.org/fannie-lou-hamer-and-the-mississippi-freedom-democratic-party-by-alice-leuchtag)
Election Day is the day We the People take back our sovereignty. After the votes are counted, we have given it on loan to our elected representatives. But, this does not mean that our part is over. The struggle for justice and for equality continues. The struggle to make our nation a more perfect union continues. The struggle to bring sustenance and joy to all the people of our nation and all the peoples of our world continues. And we the masses are the vanguard.