Today is Election Day! Once I finish writing this, then I’m going across the street to vote. I’m going to put on my ‘Why I Vote’ t-shirt and wear it for the entire day. The t-shirt has moving and memorable black and white pictures of people from the Civil Rights Movement and is a reminder of what Black folks had to go through in order to get the right to vote. Although I don’t need a t-shirt.
My family is from Selma, Alabama. My mother, aunt, and grandmother were present on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965, a day the world now knows as Bloody Sunday. My grandmother, a nurse, treated now Congressman John Lewis at the hospital later that day. My grandparents would alternate their participation in marches and protests so that if he/she got jailed, the other one could take care of the kids. My great-grandmother stood at the Selma Courthouse and demanded the right to vote and voted for the first time in her mid-50’s. I just helped my grandmother complete her absentee ballot on her 88th birthday and mailed it off for her. She never misses an election.
I honor my family by never missing one either.
But I wonder as I watch my social media timeline fill up with encouraging posts on why people need to vote, emphasizing that people died for this right to vote – is that the right message? My family’s Civil Rights legacy is important to me and impacts my social justice activities, but I know that it’s not the narrative for most people. It might not be what they draw on when they weigh if they should get informed, take the time, stand in line, and actually vote.
This younger generation sees those old black and white photos as outdated, as history, as something that happened a long time ago. Not realizing that we are just now coming up on the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. It was not that long ago. Our elders can still recall those days with a pain and a fury.
It seems that nowadays people don’t understand or maybe they don’t realize that what happened then is still happening now — just in different ways, by different people, in different shapes and forms, but the intent is still there — to suppress the vote of certain people. Not just Black people, but people of color, women, lower-income individuals, the youth. This is a dangerous thing. And apathy is not the answer.
But how do we encourage people to vote? Maybe this whole: people died for their right and by extension your right to vote is not the answer.
Maybe it’s: People are still dying. Not for the right to vote, but from our not voting. Because who we put in office by not voting, impacts bills and policies that have the potential to take away our lives. To kill us. To destroy us.
I would like to think that we also counter this ‘why should I vote’ attitude by living by example, by voting in every election, by showing to the next generation that voting still matters in every election. And then it’s what happens after Election Day that matters most – remaining educated and engaged in our local, state, and federal matters. Civic engagement should be a proud legacy that’s passed down in every family.
Until every child knows that voting is not only a right, it’s a birthright waiting to be claimed.
Diana Veiga is a Spelman woman, a DC resident, and a freelance writer. Of course, she’s also on Twitter.
Check out our gallery for some historical images of our voting legacy.