By: STEPHEN SALISBURY
By this time next week, we will know who the next President of the United States is. Whoever is elected, the choice will be historic. Either we’ll have the first woman to serve in the office or the first to never have held public office prior to being elected.
No matter who is elected there are going to be those who are downright angry about their candidate not winning, while there will be others who are elated. Elated because their candidate won or just glad the other one didn’t.
Politics is a dirty business. No doubt we’ve never been more aware of this than during this election cycle. Politics by definition is supposed to simply be the process by which a country is governed. In theory, a politician is someone who is interested in serving their constituents by working within the context of the governmental system to provide the best life for said constituents.
Unfortunately, it seems that politics and politicians have become concepts that we as citizens no longer see in this light. Politicians seem only to care about attacking their opponent and making sure they do everything in their power to stay in office.
Many of the students with whom I’ve talked about these issues this year seem to think that there is nothing we can do to change this reality. I would argue that you don’t allow yourself to succumb to this philosophy.
Opposing this mentality is what gives us people like Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. Opposing this mentality reveals heroes such as Rosa Parks and Harvey Milk. Opposing this mentality creates historic figures like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Abraham Lincoln and Joan of Arc. History is filled with individuals who refused to believe that nothing will ever change; that the way things were is the way things will always be. We can’t allow ourselves to fall into that mindset.
The irony of highlighting these individuals is that every one of these folks were normal, flawed, flesh and blood human beings just like you and me. They were born. They had families. They were rich and poor, fat and skinny, attractive or plain-looking. I mean to say that they were real, not super humans who were fictional characters created by Marvel or DC comics.
And yet, they refused to accept that they were incapable of effecting change. They fought against injustice. They took a stand. And you know what many of them did not have the right to do? Take five minutes out of their day on a Tuesday in November and go cast a vote.
You see, we’ve been given a privilege that many people in this world do not have. We have the right to peacefully go to a polling station, step into a voting booth, mark a piece of paper or push a button on a screen and let our voices be heard. There are people alive in this country today who can relay the fact that this was not always the case for many of our citizens.
Just ask the folks who took the Freedom Summer bus rip this past summer. In June of 1964, just two years before my dad graduated high school, people were being killed in the South for working to secure the right of Black citizens to vote. Killed! Not just yelled at. Not just confronted with a group of people across the streets with protest signs. They were stopped in their car along a country road, dragged out of their vehicle, into the woods and beaten to death simply because they wanted people who were citizens in this country to have the right to vote without encumbrance. Their names were James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman. Or how about Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Addie Mae Collins—all 14 years old—and 11-year-old Denise McNair who were all killed while attending church on a Sunday morning in Birmingham, Ala., in September of 1963.
Their place of worship was targeted because this was a site where many civil rights leaders of the time, including Martin Luther King, Jr., often met to discuss strategy on how to further their movement.
These folks were killed because they wanted simply for all people, people who were citizens, people who paid their taxes, people who had jobs and contributed to their local economy to simply have the right to get up on a Tuesday morning in November, take five minutes out of their day, go to a polling station, walk into a booth, and let their voice be heard.
They died so you could have that right, as have so many of our citizens in the 240 years of this countries’ independence. Don’t dishonor their sacrifice by saying “my vote doesn’t matter,” because it does my friends. It absolutely does!