By Conference Minister Diane Weible
This is the third part in a series about impressions and thoughts from the trip I took to Alabama with the other Conference Ministers in November. We visited Civil Rights sites in Selma, Montgomery and Birmingham.
As the 2020 Presidential Race heats up and the first Democratic primaries are just around the corner, I’m thinking a lot about the right to vote. I still remember one of the first primary elections I voted in. Our polling place was at the Catholic School just up the street from my neighborhood. During primary elections, you had to choose a party. Depending on which party you chose you entered the building to the right or to the left. My family, for the most part, was loyal to one party. I had already decided I was voting for a candidate in another party. For this reason, I decided I would go to the polling place alone so no one would know which way I turned.
As I was leaving the house my sister asked where I was going and when I told her, she insisted that she come with me because she was going to vote too and we shared a car. I told her I wanted to go alone but she thought that was silly so she got in the car with me and we headed to the school. I was probably walking a few steps ahead of her because I don’t remember a discussion before we entered the building. What I remember is that I put my head down and made my own decision and turned in a direction the opposite of her.
After we had voted and we both exited the school she looked at me and said, “I’m telling mom and dad.”
I mentioned that story to her not too long ago and we had a good laugh about it. She didn’t remember the day but I certainly did.
No one was going to tell me how to vote and it never occurred to me that someone may be standing at that polling place to tell me I couldn’t vote.
As I have grown older and have visited places like Alabama, I have come to understand that for many of my siblings in this country, this is their reality. Our trip to Alabama and the images and sounds and stories about voter suppression and violence at the polling places told a story that was almost hard to believe. And, yet, I knew it was very true and that people today are still living with the effects of Jim Crow, Reconstruction and Civil Rights abuse.
But it is not just the trauma that these periods in our country’s history caused, it is also the continued suppression that our current laws and proposed laws create.
The truth is that today, in the United States, there are continued efforts to suppress the vote. Law are introduced that will make it hard for some people to vote. Literacy tests and poll taxes may not be in effect in 2020 but picture voter ID requirements are. For those of us with privilege, we don’t understand why that is such a burden. We drive so of course we have a photo ID. We have jobs where we can take time off to get to the DMV to get a photo ID or a driver’s license. People working two and three jobs to put food on the table don’t have that luxury. IDs cost money. IDs require documents that not everyone has in their safe deposit boxes. Getting a voter ID is not easy for everyone and if they are told they will be turned away at the ballot box because they don’t have one, they may not even try.
In this country we talk about the right and privilege afforded us by the US Constitution to vote. There is no adjective that is included in that statement. That right is not just if your skin color or economic status is “the right” color or “right” status. The right to vote is afforded all citizens. We did away with the laws that limited these rights to particular people. Now it’s up to all of us to make sure that everyone feels enabled and empowered to exercise this privilege. It is what our democracy stands on and it is a way to work at healing our country from the pain and damage done in the Reconstruction and Civil Rights eras. By working for that healing today we are saying “no more” to exclusion and suppression and abuse for the future.