DEAR READERS: Today marks the midterm Election Day across the United States. I am writing to you today with a plea to fulfill your civic duty. My column is not a place for political activism per se, and I’m not trying to turn it into that now. But I do think it is important to point out what should be obvious from a politically aware but neutral point of view: The right to vote is precious. When you look around the world and take note of the ways in which other governments work, you may be able to gain perspective on how fortunate we are in this country that virtually each one of us has the legal right to cast a ballot to say who we want to govern our cities, states and, indeed, the whole country.
For me, this is a no-brainer. Being African-American and knowing our history, I am clear that the right to vote was not a given for many years. Yes, in this country that we love so much, many black people were refused the right to vote for decades. A big part of the civil rights movement of the '50s and '60s was to secure the right to vote. Many blacks, particularly in the South, marched for this right, some even losing their lives in the process.
There were many tricks put into play to make it impossible for black people to vote, including literacy tests (illegal) and poll taxes (also illegal). And yet, persistence prevailed. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 ensured the right to vote regardless of race. It was created to uphold the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, which was enacted in 1870, but was largely unenforced in the South until this important piece of legislation was passed.
Similarly, women have been fighting for the right to vote for generations. It wasn’t until the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was made, in 1920, that women were afforded the legal right to vote. That, of course, was easier for white women. And still for all of these years, women have struggled with the realities of fighting for equal treatment under the law -- without grasping it in many cases. Indeed, the Equal Rights Amendment, which would guarantee equality for men and women under the law, is a piece of legislation that has yet to be voted through Congress.
Why do I say all of this? We need to know our history and exercise our rights. We live in a country of laws, where we elect individuals to stand up and represent our views and rights. And yet, most of us do not participate in the very basics of the political process. People are often too caught up in their day-to-day responsibilities or are unsure that their vote will make a difference.
I implore you to think differently. You must pay attention to what’s going on in your city, state and country. You must understand what issues are at stake right now and who represents different views about them. From there, you must take the time to cast your ballot.
Today is one of the most important days of your life, if you understand that who gets elected in your town will either support your values or not. Cast your ballot today. Make your vote count. And educate others about our history and responsibility to stand up for what we believe to be fair and just.
(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to email@example.com or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)