One would have to be living under a rock to not know that Election Day is just around the corner. Political advertising, door to door campaigning and yard signs make elections hard to miss, even when we are not electing a President. Still, if this election is anything like the past, fewer than half of all eligible voters will vote on November 4.
We seem to have a sentimental, feel good attitude about our democracy and the freedoms we enjoy. It would seem that many of us ignore the other side of freedom—responsibility.
When our Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution, they really didn’t directly address who could vote. Voting was left to the discretion of the individual states. Most of the original states only allowed voting by white men who owned property. Catholics, Jews, Quakers, freed blacks, Indians, slaves and women were not allowed to vote. In the first election, George Washington was elected by a vote of less than three percent of the population.
We owe a great deal to those brave men and women who have fought for our country on foreign shores. Without regard for whether or not one agrees with every war our country had fought, the soldiers, sailor and marines who serve our country deserve our respect and gratitude.
We also owe a debt to those who struggled and fought on our own soil like the women who marched for women’s right to vote. Those suffragettes risked their relationships. They were arrested and beaten. When they went on hunger strikes in prison they were force fed. They were accused of being crazy and some were even treated with electric shock treatments. Their efforts were not rewarded until the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment 1920.
Even though the Civil War and Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves, they were not allowed to vote until the Fifteenth Amendment was approved in 1870. Still, it took the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s to rid many states of threats of violence, lynchings, poll taxes and literacy tests.
Without the efforts of those who marched in the streets, who protested, who boycotted, who risked violence and jail, only white, propertied males would still be able to vote even today. John Adams believed that voting should be reserved for the wealthy, educated class. He didn’t think the poor, ordinary working folk were able to make wise decisions. There is no reason for those who enjoy privilege and power to advocate for change. It is only the fight of the people against the status quothat has brought about change and made participation in our democracy available to many of us.
If we don’t vote and don’t do the work necessary to make good decisions, we disrespect not only our brave military men and women. We make light of the work and sacrifice endured by the men and women who fought for our right to vote.
Study the issues. Listen to the candidates. Become involved in our democracy.
Copyright © 2014 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains