There is nothing better than driving from Maryland, where I live, to Louisiana, where I was born, to refresh my appreciation of the right to vote.
Crossing the Mississippi on Interstate 20, there is a James Chaney Jr. You can go north towards the city of Philadelphia. It was there that Chaney and two other civil rights activists, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan during the 1964 Freedom Summer.
They volunteered to help blacks register to vote. The very sight of this highway sign gives me a quickening of my pulse.
Going through Jackson, miss, also brings back memories. It was June 1963. I was eight years old, home in Shreveport, watching my dad and my neighbor stare solemnly at the TV news. A man was just killed standing in his Jackson driveway.
It took me several years to appreciate the significance of what happened – that the man was Medgar Evers of the NAACP, and that he was murdered by a white supremacist for helping blacks register to vote.
The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum honors Medgar Evers
In the South, there are memorial plaques indicating where people were lynched, shot or blown up with bombs for attempting to vote or helping someone else to vote. In places like Colfax and Opelousas in Los Angeles, dozens of black people were butchered in the post-reconstruction era to keep them out of the polls.
Some were beaten and harassed, or lost their jobs for trying to vote. Some could not afford the poll tax. Or he couldn’t pass a literacy test, which consisted of counting the bubbles on a bar of soap or reciting some secret amendment to the state’s constitution. Tests were performed only on black people.
Dad and I talked a lot about the bad old days. Neither his parents nor their siblings ever had a chance to vote. But we don’t talk about those times anymore. Mainly because he thinks the bad old times are returning. The Electoral Rights Acts were supposed to end it all. But now these and other civil rights are being withdrawn, and Dad just doesn’t want to go through it all again.
On my way back to my home in Prince George County, I cross Alabama where every highway sign echoes with historic broken heart and hope – Birmingham, Selma, Montgomery. (Visit the National Memorial for Peace and Justice where lynching victims are honored and your voting rights will be renewed.)
In Maryland, the voting process is as it should be everywhere in this country. I can vote earlier. I can vote by post, in a mailbox or in person. The state election commission website shows you how to register to vote, how to get a home ballot, how to properly cast and track your ballot paper.
You can use the site to find out how to become a candidate and what some offices are involved in to match the candidate’s qualifications with the requirements of the position. There is even a tutorial available to help you use social media to increase your excitement about the upcoming elections. So you can make sure your neighbors know when the next election is and what is at stake.
Get more people involved in the political process, not less. This is the American way.
It is a pity that blacks in nearly 30 states have to find a way around the myriad attempts to suppress and restrict voters that are now being put in place for maximum deterrence during the mid-term election. But that’s nothing new. Anti-democratic white supremacists have long been a malicious minority determined to undermine American democracy by taking over and corrupting the local and state government electoral apparatus.
A joint report from the Governance Studies program at the Brookings Institution and the United States United Democracy Center summarizes the threat this way:[I]If democracy fails in America, it will not be because the majority of Americans are demanding an undemocratic form of government. This is because an organized, purposeful minority takes strategic positions in the system and undermines the essence of democracy while preserving its shell – while the majority is not well organized or cares about resisting.
In the Maryland election, you don’t have to look long and hard at what’s at stake and what would happen if most decent, freedom-loving people didn’t care enough to resist.
Top of the vote for governor is the Democratic candidate Rhodes, an African-American scholar, a combat veteran and anti-poverty champion who firmly believes that education is key to the country’s democratic future.
His opponent is a Republican member of the House of Delegates who is also a member of a group called Alliance Defending Freedom, which was described as an anti-LGBTQ organization in 2017 by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
I will have something to say about which of them leads my country, and there is no reason why it should be a pleasure to cast my vote.