I may be in Norway for this election, but I voted absentee before I left. That’s my ballot in the yellow envelope in my hand. Voting is a right far, far too critical for anything else to take precedence. Neither rain, nor snow, nor Oslo:)
It profoundly saddened me to walk beneath the flags at half-staff to honor the Jewish people slaughtered in Pittsburgh in order to cast my ballot, but it reminded me in dramatic fashion why voting is so incredibly important.
People Died for Your Right to Vote
February 3, 1870 – that’s the day that the 15th Amendment to the US Constitution guaranteed black people, people of mixed race, or people that had once been slaves the right to vote. Yes, every sort of intimidation tactic imaginable was used to prevent this body of Americans from voting.
This 1869 Thomas Nast cartoon shows everyone at the Thanksgiving dinner table portrayed as equals…well, except the women at the table still weren’t able to vote, nor would they be for another half century.
Why? People in charge were afraid of the outcome of how women or “people of color” might vote. They feared that the sheer number of “other” people’s votes would outnumber their own if those disenfranchised individuals were allowed to vote for representatives and policies that benefitted them. In other words, if everyone that was not a male of pure European descent were able to vote – the control that men of purely European descent exercised over women and everyone of mixed ethnicity would either be diminished or disappear entirely. You can read more about voting rights in America here.
When you discover that your ancestors with so much as “one drop” of non-European blood passed for white as soon as possible, and hid other lineages – this history might give you a clue as to why. Other terribly discriminatory laws and practices related to employment, property ownership and many other rights persisted until as late as 1965 and even though the laws became obsolete then, the practices did not. Even today, the political practice of gerrymandering routinely structures voting districts in a fashion to benefit some and disadvantage others.
Native American people and voting rights – that history is even worse. In order for the original disenfranchised inhabitants of this land to obtain the right to vote, they were required to give up their tribal lands beginning in 1887. However, their right to vote was consistently challenged. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 created to enforce the 14th and 15th constitutional amendments should have ended all controversy, but since then at least 74 lawsuits have been filed with the intention of disenfranchising Native American Voters.
August 26, 1920 – that’s the day in the US that the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution guaranteed women the right to vote.
If you think any of this came easy, it didn’t.
If you get the feeling that voting rights are always at least marginally in some form of jeopardy, I’d have to agree. It seems there is always a group of people who would be all too happy to remove the right to vote from another group.
Disenfranchisement is still way too close in my family.
Neither of my grandmothers were allowed to vote until they were adults. Ollie Bolton would have been 44 in 1920 and Edith Lore, 32. I hope they both proudly voted.
My father wouldn’t have been allowed to vote, and neither would his Estes side of the family if the truth were known about their mixed race lineage. They were painfully aware of this situation. Neither would my mother’s grandfather’s line. He was mixed too.
That leaves just my paternal grandmother’s male line and my maternal grandfather’s Dutch and male German lines with the ability to vote. Of course, my Dutch great-grandfather was the immigrant who, ironically, arrived like so many others due to religious discrimination back home.
In other words, more than half of my tree was disenfranchised because they were women, and of the remainder, another half would have been prevented from voting because of their heritage. At one time, only white male property owners over the age of 21 could vote, on top of the other restrictions. More than 75% of my ancestors were disenfranchised one way or another, and that’s not counting the ones who were living in other countries or deported from Canada in 1755 because they were Catholic.
Historically, it seems that voting wasn’t really a right after all, but a privilege restricted to the while, land-owning elite. By and large, they intended to keep it that way too.
I have the ability to vote, thanks to a very long history of sacrifices, and it’s my responsibility to do so.
The Long Road
So here we are, 98 years after women obtained the right to vote, facing a difficult election.
The 2016 US election was the most contentious in living memory, at least in my life, with a very divisive outcome. The sitting president ascended to power not with the majority of popular votes, but with the votes of the electoral college. Translated, this means that based on political districts, in the US, one vote really does not equal one vote today because some districts have more electoral votes than others. You can read more about the electoral college and how it works here.
Regardless of whether we like the system we have in place today, regardless of who wins or loses, it’s what we have to work with. It’s incredibly important that everyone who has the right votes. Apathy is simply putting your future into the hands of the party that happens to get elected, without even so much as a peep out of you. My rule – if you don’t vote you don’t get to complain.
If everyone who didn’t vote in the last election HAD voted, then perhaps either there would have been a clear winner by popular vote (as well as electoral college,) or a different outcome might have occurred altogether.
If everyone who voted for a third-party candidate had voted for one of the two candidates who was going to win, again, either there might have been a clear popular winner, or a different winner. Either outcome, I think, would have been less divisive.
Voting rights were too difficult to obtain not to cherish and utilize them.
Everyone who descends from a Revolutionary War soldier is descended from someone who fought in order that they, and their descendants, would have voting rights, fair representation and a say in their own outcome.
Descended from slaves or Native Americans or soldiers who fought for the North during the (not so) Civil War? They voted with their blood for your right to cast a ballot today.
Family members who fought in WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm or the military actions since? Those men and women are commanded by the President, a person voted into power through the votes of you and me.
Voting is the political Facebook. Talking isn’t enough. Nothing matters except for your vote.
People shed blood and died for your right to vote. Your ancestors may have given their lives or served their country in order to preserve that right. Our service members today are doing that very thing.
Vote like your life depends on it, because it may. The lives of our service men and women certainly do. The lives of your descendants will.
It’s your right and your responsibility.
November 6th, for the honor of your ancestors and hope for our collective future…