In a few days, many Americans who haven’t already voted will head to the polls to elect the next president of the United States.
But some will not. There are still many, including legions of Blacks, who have no plans to vote. The reasons vary—no time, their choice won’t matter, they don’t care who wins or they disagree with one candidate’s stand and can’t relate to the other.
As an African American, that chills me, especially at such a critical time in our country. And yes, it is our country. More on that later.
I am thrilled that my son, Z, will get to vote for a Black president on Nov. 6. At 19, this will be his first election. He grew up going to the polls with his father and me. Once when I was not permitted to take him with me to the voting machine, I wrote a story in the Washington Post, where I worked, about the insanity of keeping Black children away from the voting process.
Z grew up knowing how important it is to vote. I was taught the same thing by my parents, who were both born in the segregated South. We haven’t overcome yet, but electing soldiers like John Lewis, Elijah Cummings and Sheila Jackson Lee to Congress, and Blacks to prominent positions in local, state and federal government is moving us toward it.
That brings me to this election. While a majority of voters united to seat our nation’s first Black president in 2008, those who considered President Obama’s election a defeat are aching to turn back the clock. Though certain pundits have tried to convince us that we now live in a post-racial America, the behavior of some Republicans toward our president shows clearly that race is still very much an issue.
According to a recent Associated Press poll, “51 percent of Americans now express explicit anti-Black attitudes, compared with 48 percent in a similar 2008 survey. When measured by an implicit racial attitudes test, the number…jumped to 56 percent, up from 49 percent” in 2008, according to an AP story about the research.
I will celebrate five months with the AFRO on Election Day. I have worked hard to continue this newspaper’s proud tradition of presenting news to and about African Americans. Working as the editor in charge of a Black newspaper when a Black man is running for president is the most fulfilling job I have ever had. I get to oversee a news operation that presents news about us straight and uncompromised.
So hear this. Black folk, as my granddaddy used to say, need to vote in this election en masse. Our progress depends on it. There are a lot of people who oppose the way the playing field is leveling. Ever notice those “Take Our Country Back!” signs? Ever wonder from whom they want it taken?
That would be you and me, and the African American who now sits in the Oval Office. To remove him from power, those who oppose his election based on his ethnicity, not his performance, have taken a lesson from the Civil Rights Movement. They are planning to use the ballot box to challenge Obama the same way we have challenged discriminatory policies via the vote. The problem is, they’ve added dirty tricks, like voter suppression, to their effort.
Last week for a story on the history of voting, I called a stalwart of the movement, Lawrence Guyot, who worked to register voters in Mississippi in the 1960s. I called him again about this commentary.
Mr. Guyot told me that this is the most important election of the next 50 years. He fears that Republicans will try to quell future elections if Mitt Romney wins. He believes the voter suppression efforts Republicans have engineered should be investigated by “an international blue-ribbon commission.” He does not believe Americans can police themselves on this one.
Mr. Guyot cast his ballot on the first day of early voting last week in Maryland. Unable to stand or walk, he and his wife, Monica, stopped by a College Park fire station to ask for help getting to the voting machine. Firefighters went with him to the polling location, placed him in a wheelchair, wheeled him to the machine, waited for him to vote, then got him safely back into his car.
“I’m 73 years old and I am in bad health,” Mr. Guyot said. “I didn’t want to wait until Tuesday [Nov. 6].”
If Mr. Guyot went to that much trouble, we should be ashamed not to vote.
“The only way we will maintain what so many have fought for is to make sure our voices are heard and the best way to do that is by voting,” he told me previously.
Don’t let those who would turn back our progress win.
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