Politics, faith leaders urge Blacks to vote

For hundreds of years, African Americans were denied the right to vote. Obstacles to voting were written into law, and enforced with nooses, whips and guns. The blood, sweat and tears of those who fought for the right to vote is part of the legacy of this

For hundreds of years, African Americans were denied the right to vote. Obstacles of voting were written into law, and enforced with nooses, whips and guns.

The blood, sweat and tears of those who fought for the right to vote is part of the legacy of this country, and the legacy of the Chicago Defender. This newspaper feels that there are few rights that supersede the right to vote because it also represents the right to change for the better.

The Defender sought out Black politicians, ministers and community activists, who all urge Blacks to register to vote in large numbers.

“We (the African American community) are losing ground, and the only way to change this is through voting,” said Cheryle Jackson, president of the Chicago Urban League. “That’s why it’s imperative that Blacks vote.”

Cook County Board President Todd Stroger weighed in. “It is important for each resident of Cook County, the State of Illinois and the nation to cast his or her votes…in order to help shape the course of this nation,” he said. “Turn out in huge numbers to vote and do so with a passion and a purpose so that America will be a better place for all people.”

Though churches usually refrain from outright candidate endorsements, Black preachers across the city are pushing for congregants to vote in the upcoming election.

The Rev. James Meeks, pastor of Salem Baptist Church, said it is not only important for Blacks to vote in large numbers but vital to the future political cycle as well.

“It’s critical for African American people to register and vote because it is the only way to ensure a candidate will carry our agenda and represent our interests,” he said. “We cannot complain about our conditions if our expectations are not made known, and the only thing that moves politicians to meet expectations are votes.”

In order to vote, individuals must register.

Midnight on Oct. 7 is the deadline for registering for the upcoming election.

Election officials are prepared for the holdouts.

“We fully expect a large number of people to register at the last minute,” said Jim Allen, a spokesman for the Board of Elections Commissioners office. “During the primary election in January, we saw a lot of last minute voters registering.”

The Board of Elections, 69 W. Washington St., is one of two locations that will be open Oct. 7 until midnight for those wanting to register. City Hall, 121 N. LaSalle St., is the other location.

To register, individuals must be a U.S. citizen, at least 18 years old by Election Day, have been a resident of the precinct they will vote in at least 30 days prior to Election Day and be able to provide two forms of identification, with one showing a current address.

As of Sept. 15, there were 1.34 million registered voters in Chicago, up slightly from the 1.3 million registered voters during the primary election, according to Allen.

“Through our office we ask people if they would like to register to vote while renewing driver’s license, a state identification card or any business they are conducting at the office,” said Secretary of State Jesse White. “We then send their information to the election board who takes it from there.”

White added that the next president will have a say in the quality of life for all Americans, so that alone should encourage people to register and then vote.

“I remember when Blacks could not vote. But thanks to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others, voting is an open process for everyone,” White said.

Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court Dorothy Brown agrees with White on King’s suffrage efforts.

“It’s a slap in the face of Dr. King when Blacks do not vote,” she said. “To make a difference in this country, you must vote.”

She added that people who are against Sen. John McCain, the Republican candidate for president, are actually voting for him if they do not vote.

“If you don’t vote against him, you voted for him,” Brown said.

And if the past efforts of the Civil Rights Movement are not enough to inspire Blacks to register to vote, the U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-2nd, said being able to make history should be an incentive.

“Blacks have a chance to elect the first Black president, and that alone should encourage people to vote,” said Jackson, who is up for re-election Nov. 4. “Barack represents a change in Washington, and I will do whatever it takes to make sure he is elected because change is needed.”

Fellow U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis, D-7th, said voting is the greatest citizenship duty in society, and for those who do not exercise this right, they either do not care or don’t know.

Several aldermen also stressed the importance of voting this year and every election.

“Some Black voters feel like no change happens when they vote, so they get discouraged from voting again,” said Alderman Carrie Austin (34th). “But I tell those voters that their grandmothers and great-grandmothers endured many sufferings so you could vote, so do not let that go to waste. Honor their work and vote.”

“The next president will decide healthcare. This historic election is the most important election in my lifetime and probably most Blacks today,” said Alderman Sandi Jackson (7th).

Those wanting to register online can download an application by going to www.chicagoelections. com or www.cookctyclerk.com.

Wendell Hutson can be reached via e-mail at whutson@chicagodefender.com.

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

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