Why Vote? A Letter to Young Citizens
By Katara Patton
Defender Senior Editor
Perhaps you may not know this—especially if you were born well after the 60s—but there was a time (and not so long ago) that Black people couldn’t vote.
In fact, only in 1965—a mere 53 years ago—was the Voting Rights Act passed. The act made it illegal for anyone to try to stop someone from voting.
I know, lots of questions. Didn’t the 15 amendment give all men the right to vote? And didn’t Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton –with Sojourner Truth’s passionate help– a rally for women to have the right to vote and eventually get the 19th amendment passed in 1917?
Yes, that is what history records and it is correct—to a degree.
The other story is that while our constitution granted the right to vote to men and women, not all people really could vote. Especially in the South, people were killed for trying to help people register to vote! Check out the amazing documentary “Freedom Riders” to see a bloody account of how many young college students risked their lives to travel South to help people register to vote—and how much resistance others put up.
There were other methods used to stop Black people from exercising their right to vote too; some were given literacy tests, which meant they had to answer absurd questions to pass a test before they could receive their constitutional right to vote. Anything to keep us from gaining our rights.
Some people were also charged poll taxes. Yes, they were asked to cough up some dough before they could vote—the ultimate in pay to play.
One of the major gains of the Civil Rights Movement was the passage of the Voting Rights Acts in 1965, which made it illegal for our people to be charged poll taxes, given literacy tests or just plain ole blocked from voting.
Yes, it may sometimes feel like your tiny vote doesn’t matter or it won’t make a difference, but it is your vote and your right—one that others fought hard for you to have. It’s free and it’s a right; not exercising it is akin to slapping our ancestors in the face. It says we really don’t care what happens to us or to our community—go ahead raise the taxes, end programs to help us, keep me or my loved one trapped in a state of poverty, agony, fear with a substandard education to boot.
I know it may take a while for you to see change—it often comes at a slower pace than any of us would like—but I do know you can’t expect to see it if an entire generation (or more) decides to turn their backs on one of the basic (and hard-earned) rights. Take the time to read about the candidates and their platforms; decide who will make things better for you and your village—and vote. You can go early, at a time and location convenient for you or you can walk to the polls on March 20 (or vote absentee), but whatever you do: vote. And raise a hand for your grandma’s mama and her mama and your great-grandfather too…’cause chances are, they couldn’t cast their vote without some kind of trouble.