Exercise your power at the polls

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I will never understand voter apathy. When I think about the fact that 40 percent of registered, African Americans voters didn’t even bother to go to the polls in the 2004 presidential election, it makes me want to holler and throw up both my hands.

I will never understand voter apathy. When I think about the fact that 40 percent of registered, African Americans voters didn’t even bother to go to the polls in the 2004 presidential election, it makes me want to holler and throw up both my hands. The trailblazers who marched, fought and died for African Americans to win the right to vote must be spinning in their graves over the low voter turnout in the Black community election after election. To borrow a phrase from Bill Cosby: “Come on people!”

This year, the news has been slightly more positive. According to reporters, voter registration drives are getting more African Americans signed up and hold the promise of a record turnout among African Americans on November 4.

That’s great news because the right to vote should not be taken for granted or squandered. Whoever you cast your vote for, with our nation in an economic crisis, unemployment on the rise and increased financial burdens on the middle class, everyone should be lining up at the polls to make sure their voices get heard. Yet in the Black community, we’re still coming up short on the voter rolls. The truth is, even in 2008, there are thousands of African Americans who have not registered to vote or have moved and failed to re-register at their new address.

Oh, but thank goodness, it’s not too late. In Chicago and throughout all of Cook County, you have until October 7 to sign up to compete in the fall election. I say “compete” because at the end of this journey, after all the dinner table squabbles and water cooler conferences, the best way to win any political feud is by casting your vote.

Still, while this election has played big in the minds of some Americans, for some others it’s just another reality TV show. They’re watching but don’t plan to vote for their favorite at the end of the season. We’re not talking about "American Idol" or "Fantasy Football" here, folks, but the two most important offices in our nation’s government– that of president and vice president.

That said, I wonder, what makes people not want to engage in the political process?

One common excuse I’ve heard is that voting doesn’t make a difference. It doesn’t matter who is in office, everything will stay the same. That’s a self-fulfilling prophecy if you don’t vote. Mud-slinging, scandals, schemes, word play, sarcasm and smears during the campaign season is a huge turn-off for a lot of people, too. The environment of constant media coverage can (and does) wear on a person’s nerves. But, unfortunately, that’s politics. We have to get past the noise, attack ads and the pundits, and educate ourselves on where candidates stand on the issues and vote our conscience.

As president of the Urban League, I feel it is my responsibility to at least urge you to exercise your right to vote. Civil rights organizations historically have advocated for increased voter participation; some have conducted their own registration drives. I always say it’s better to take action than to simply sit back and critique inaction. So on Saturday, September 27, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., the Chicago Urban League will register residents to vote as we host the Fifth Third Bank e-Bus at our headquarters at 4510 S. Michigan Ave. The e-bus is a mobile financial services classroom created to educate visitors about homeownership and financial management. But on Sept. 27, it will double as a voter registration station.

In the meantime, seek out voter drives in your neighborhood and churches, or make the trip downtown to register at municipal offices. I published this information in a column back in January. It’s worth repeating: For those who live in Cook County but not the city, go to the Cook County Clerk’s Office at 69 W. Washington Blvd., Room 500, in downtown Chicago, to register. Those who live in the City of Chicago go to the same address but to the 6th floor to the Chicago Board of Elections. You’ll need a photo ID and two pieces of mail with your current address on it, such as a utility, cable or credit card bill. Your photo ID doesn’t have to carry your current address.

The Cook County’s Clerk’s office is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The Chicago Board of Elections is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 9 a.m. to noon on Sunday.

Now, all that’s left is to get out and vote on November 4. Whomever you choose, win or lose, the power to make a difference begins with you.

Cheryle R. Jackson is the President of the Chicago Urban League. She can be reached at president@thechicagourbanleague.org.

Copyright 2008 Chicago Defender. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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