Thursday, March 3, 2011

Senator Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches # 1238

  Voting is powerful. It’s the difference in being spoken for by others and speaking for ourselves. It’s the difference between being half a citizen and being a whole citizen. It’s the difference between being recognized as fully human as opposed to being a little less than human. Voting is that powerful.

  When I reached 21 years of age, I could not vote in Alabama. My mother could not vote even though she had been grown for years and had given birth to 13 children and raised 12. My father could not vote either and he was older than she was and had raised as many children. Not being able to vote somehow said we were not intelligent enough, not worthy enough, not capable enough.

  Today, most of us in the USA take voting for granted. Some of us take it for granted so much that we don’t bother to vote. Our inaction diminishes that which is so valuable. It is up to us to recognize the value of voting and embrace it firmly.

  People in Egypt are rising up and insisting on the full right to vote. The same is true in Iran, Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen, and other places. They have taken to the streets by the hundreds of thousands. They just want to vote; to speak for themselves rather than being spoken for; to be whole citizens rather than half citizens; to be accepted as a whole human rather than partial human. I understand their needs. I understand their actions. I’ve been there!

  I still remember the veil cast over me by being denied the right to vote. I could not escape the feeling of being less than, of not quite being recognized as somebody, of not being capable of acting for myself. It cast a pall that enveloped my spirit and weighed heavily on me.

  I remember taking to the streets like the people in Egypt. Just fighting for the right to vote made me feel more human, more of a citizen, as I made my voice heard. It diminished the pall cast over my being by the denial of this basic human right.

  I was so proud in March 1965 that some of us Talladega College students piled into a Volkswagen Beetle and traveled the 85 or so miles to St. Jude Complex just West of Montgomery to take to the streets with thousands of others for the right to vote. I remember our standing up for ourselves, of fighting for our rights, of trying to lift the veil of denial. I felt more worthy, more capable, more human, just walking the five miles to the Capitol with tens of thousands of others.

  There are still some who try to diminish our right to vote. No, they don’t shout, “You can’t vote.” They just diminish the value of our vote. They just make our vote less meaningful. It’s an age old trick that’s still in vogue today.

  Don’t forget that people can vote in Egypt and Iran. Their votes just don’t mean anything. The powers that be limit political parties and political candidates. They eliminate meaningful choices. The people voting are just going through the motions. And they got tired of going through the motions and took to the streets.

  Last week I was in Washington, D.C. fighting to keep our vote meaningful here in Alabama. I, along with others, met at the U. S. Department of Justice to challenge a scheme to diminish the vote of African Americans in Alabama. No, they did not shout, “You can’t vote.” Their scheme just diminishes our ability to organize our votes in meaningful ways. We must forever be vigilant for such schemes. They are always being hatched and raised.

  This scheme was coated in the veneer of ethics. It sounded so good in the media. We are all for ethics but it must be more than skin deep. And it must never be a cover for vote diminishing schemes. We must forever be vigilant.

  Yes, voting is powerful. Who would have thought that someone so thoroughly denied the right to vote would one day serve in the Alabama Senate? Believe me, it did not just happen. Someone fought for the right. Someone risked their lives, their jobs, their bodies, and their families for this right. Someone took to the streets. Someone died.

  I can never forget that I stand on the shoulders of those who went before me. If I reach a little higher, it’s not because I am taller. If I see a little farther, it’s not because I have better eyes. It’s only because I stand on those shoulders. And I am not the only one standing on such shoulders.

  Yes, voting is powerful. It is so powerful that it makes us full citizens.  hat’s why I’m celebrating it with everything I have. I hope you celebrate with me.

EPILOGUE – It is easy for us to clearly see a wrong when it’s 10,000 miles away. It is so much harder to see something that’s wrong when it springs from our institutions and is upon us. We must see everything that diminishes anyone’s right to vote, not just what happens in Egypt and Iran.

  About the author: Hank Sanders represents the 23rd Senate District in Alabama.

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