Today marks exactly one week before the general election.
Yesterday at Pumpkin Fest, as I sat with students I noticed that one had decorated his pumpkin with the simple words: I voted.
Looking at those words reminded me that for many Olin students, this will be the first time they cast a ballot.
And I recalled something Representative John Lewis said: “The vote is precious. It is almost sacred. It is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have in a democracy.”
Those words resonate with me because growing up in a military family, I was struck by the fact that though my dad honorably served his country, at the time he entered service there were barriers in place to prevent his ability to vote.
Despite the passage of Civil Rights Acts in 1957, 1969 and 1964, discriminatory practices that prevented African Americans from exercising their right to vote continued. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed by Congress sought to eliminate barriers instituted at the state level. The late John Lewis dedicated much of his life to the passage of that act.
When I reached voting age, the Voting Rights Act wasn’t even a decade old. And the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote was only about 50 years old.
In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down a central portion of the Voting Rights Act that required advance federal approval for states to change their election laws — opening the door for discriminatory practices. The current unrest related to racial injustice is a reminder that while strides have been made, we are far from eliminating barriers faced by “racialized” minorities.
While this election may be among the most consequential of our lifetime, it is important to remember that, in fact, every election, whether it is for the nation’s highest office or for a local school board, is a demonstration of our first and most important obligation as citizens.
This obligation weighs as heavy on me now as it did when I reached voting age. I urge each and every one of you to exercise your precious right to vote.
Make sure that in this and future elections, you, too, can say, “I voted.”