ABOVE PHOTO: (Rena Schild / Shutterstock.com)
By Marc H. Morial
“In a democracy such as ours, the vote is precious, it is almost sacred. It is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have. Those who sacrificed everything – their blood and their lives – and generations yet unborn, are all hoping and praying that Congress will rise to the challenge and get it done again.”
— Congressman John Lewis
In less than a month, the nation will conclude what is likely to be remembered as one of the most contentious Presidential campaigns in modern history.
The campaign has been fraught with racially divisive rhetoric as the nation continues to struggle with issues of racial hostility and social inequity, as demonstrated by the wave of violence that has taken so many lives over the last year.
A lack of social and economic opportunity is at the root of the unrest. The troubling divisive rhetoric that has characterized the 2016 Presidential race has fed the unrest. And only a historic, targeted mobilization of resources can address the unrest.
The National Urban League has a plan to elevate urban communities through targeted public investment, called the “Main Street Marshall Plan.”
The organization also has a plan to hold police and communities accountable for unjustified violence against unarmed citizens, called the “10 Point Justice Plan for Police Reform and Accountability.”
But plans on paper, even if written in the most compelling prose and, with the most prescient rationale, mean nothing if we do not put in place responsible, forward-thinking governmental representatives with the power to put these plans into action.
The responsibility to put these plans into action lies with this generation.
That responsibility boils down to just one almighty action: We must vote.
The National Urban League is part of a nonpartisan election protection coalition formed to ensure that all voters have an equal opportunity to participate in the political process. Election Protection provides Americans from coast to coast with comprehensive voting information on how they can make sure their vote is counted through a number of resources including a voter helpline 866-OUR-VOTE.
If you or anyone you know experiences any irregularity while trying to register or vote, call 866-OUR-VOTE. But please, vote.
If injustice outrages you, if this recent cycle of violence grates at your inner core as a human being, then we must vote.
If we want to fund urban infrastructure and build schools instead of juvenile detention facilities, build libraries and community centers instead of prisons, we must vote.
If we want universal early childhood education … we must vote.
If we want a federal living wage, tied to inflation, we must vote.
If we want to fund urban infrastructure and build schools instead of juvenile detention facilities, libraries and community centers instead of prisons, we must vote.
If you want to see our tax dollars go to rebuilding West Baltimore and Inglewood, Chicago and Athens, Ohio, and Boone, North Carolina, as they have in Baghdad and Kabul, we must vote.
If we want to see our urban youth working at summer jobs instead of floundering in hopelessness, we must vote.
If we want to see the dream of a college education within affordable reach for every student in America, we must vote.
If we are to see justice done in the killings of our brothers and sisters at the hands of police and self-appointed vigilantes, we must vote.
If we want to end the scourge of violence within African American neighborhoods, we must vote.
If we want to erase the AR-17 and the AK47 – the weapon of choice for terrorists and mass killings – from our streets, we must vote.
If we want no fly, no buy and universal background checks, we must vote.
If we are to honor the martyrdom of Andrew Goodman, Mickey Schwerner and James Chaney, we must vote.
If we want a compassionate system of immigration reform that leads to dignity and citizenship, we must vote.
If we want continued, robust funding for the Urban League’s highly effective programs, we must vote.
If our vision is an America with liberty, justice and economic opportunity for all, we must vote.
If we are to change the heart of this nation, we must vote.
And if we are to achieve all this, through our vote, we must continue to fight with everything we have to protect our vote.
This is the first presidential election in more than 50 years to take place without the full protection of the Voting Rights Act. This year, 14 states will have new voting restrictions in place for the first time in a presidential election. The new laws range from strict photo ID requirements to early voting cutbacks to registration restrictions. Those 14 states are: Alabama, Arizona, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
It’s no accident that the states most likely to pass new voting restrictions were those with the highest African-American turnout in 2008, those with the highest Hispanic population growth between 2000 and 2010, and those formerly covered under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act before it was struck down by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder.
Of the 11 states with the highest African-American turnout in 2008, six have new restrictions in place. Of the 15 jurisdictions previously covered by Section 5, nine have new restrictions in place and four of them enacted restrictions directly after the Shelby County decision: Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Texas.
Make no mistake, there are people in power who do not want African Americans, young people, senior citizens and other vulnerable populations to vote. We cannot let them stop us.