This is not a rhetorical question. In fact, more times than I care to note, I have heard this sentiment expressed by citizens of the United States. Even while globally people fight for their right to cast their vote, we still have an attitude that feels we cannot make a difference.
A bit of a history lesson for those who need it. Voting has always been important to African Americans. For many it was a first act as a free man to register to vote. Indeed, after emancipation, we were a part of the system as evidenced by the number of blacks elected to state and federal legislatures. Many historians suggest that there were more than 1,500 African American officeholders during the Reconstruction Era(1863-1877). There have been nine African American United States Senators. Nine. Five were elected by popular vote, 2 were elected by State Legislature before the passage of the 17th Ammendment which states that a U.S.Senator must be elected by the people of that state, and 2 were appointed by Govenors.
Hiram Rhodes Revels was the first and represented the state of Mississippi.He was elected by the Mississippi State Legislature. Some members of the senate opposed his seat, claiming he did not meat the citizenship requirement. Senator Blanche Bruce was elected by the Mississippi Legislature in 1875. But in 1890 the state legislature passed a new constitution disinfranchising most black voters. And every other southern state passed disinfranchising constitutions by 1908, excluding African American voters from the political system in the entire former Confederacy. It wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that things began to change. It was aimed to overcome legal barriers at the state and local levels that prevented black Americans from exercising their right to vote under the 15th Ammendment.The next black senator was Edward Brooke, elected nearly 100 years after Revels and Bruce. Add the names of Carol Moseley Braun and Barack Obama, who were both elected by the voters of Illinois. When Barack Obama became President, Roland Burris was appointed to fill his seat in the senate. Tim Scott of South Caarolina and Mo Cowan of Massachusetts were both appointed by govenors to fill vacated seats. And lastly, in 2013, the voters of Nw jersey elected Cory Booker in a special election to fill a vacated senate seat. As of November 2015, there have been 1,963 members of the United States Senate, but only nine have been black.
African Americans have participated in politics decades prior to emancipation. Free Men of Color served in the United States House of Reprentatives, state legislatures and even as Lt Govenors and Govenors. So the simple answer to my original question is YES, your vote matters.
Fast forward to the summer of 1964, also known as Freedom Summer. In 1962, a study showed that less than 7% of eligible black voters in the state of Mississippi were actually registed to vote. Several Civil Rights organizations came together to organize voter registration in Mississippi. One thousand out-of-state, predominately white volunteers went to Mississippi to register black voters. Among those were Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, both from New York and local James Chaney, all of whom went missing the day after they arrived. Weeks later their bodies were found murdered and buried in a shallow grave. So, the answer is still YES, your vote matters.
Next question. If your vote is so unimportant, would the system be so hell bent on keeping you out? The brown paper bag test and grandfather clauses have been replaced with gerrymandering districts, voter registration laws, purging registration rolls, erroniously reporting massive voter fraud. So, the answer is STILL, YES, your vote matters.
Many of you have checked out of this election. It is, by any standard, a farce. I remarked the other day that you could gather the greatest storytellers on the planet and no one would have come up with this. I admit it takes a great deal of energy to take it all in and even more to get it out. But, you aren’t allowed to check out. You have a stake in this. And I don’t just mean the Presidential race. You have a stake in every down ballot race on every ticket in every state. Most of the things that affect you start at the bottom of the ticket. If you think our justice system is unfair, VOTE for different judges and district attorneys. If you don’t like the way your community is being run, VOTE for different mayors and city councilmen and county supervisors. YES, your vote matters.
It is 2016, and there are only 74 days until the election. In fact, many of you can start early voting by the end of September. If you are African American, your vote is at the center of the struggle, so Yes, your vote counts. All talk has turned to race and bigotry and ignorance. CNN and MSNBC have raked in every African American they can find to discuss what the two campaigns have to say about race and hate. “Is he talking to black voters?” Of course, he is not talking to black voters. When will we learn that any discussion of race in this country is only to further the white agenda? That is a rhetorical question. And when will we realize that their discourse does not make us important. We are important because we have in the past and continue to contribute to the economic stability of this country. We are important beause our VOTE is important. My knowing that is not predicated on anyone’s permission. I do not need anyone to tell me I am important. I don’t need anyone to tell me that my life matters. I have seen this country try their damn best to shut me out, lock me down and yes, eradicate my very existence! And all of that leads me to the conclusion that I am important. I am powerful and YES, MY VOTE MATTERS.
Please exercise your right to vote on or before November 8, and every time you can. Go to http://www.iwillvote.com to make sure your are registered or to register for the first time or again if you have moved or changed your name. In many states ex-offenders can vote. Please check to see if you are eligible.