The American right to vote
Published: Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, October 23, 2012 21:10
For the first time, my 20-year-old younger brother is eligible to vote in a presidential election. When I asked him whom he’d be voting for, he responded, “I’m not voting…it’s too much of a hassle.” So I sat him down and told him an American story about the right to vote.
Black men gained their right to vote with the 15th Amendment. In the years following, those opposed to the amendment engaged in voter intimidation, and created policy for poll taxes and literary tests to prevent black men from voting. Laws designed for these reasons still exist today, and the fight isn’t over. Voters need to know about these laws and know how to fight them, and to keep in mind that not every vote used to count.
Women did not win the right to vote until 1920. The 19th Amendment, which awarded women the right to vote, did not come easily. Women organized marches to the capitol, during which they were called names, knocked around, and injured even to the point of hospitalization. Leaders and participants of the movement were jailed for protesting. Women on hunger strike were force-fed with funnels and tubes. Women suffered and faced brutal opposition until their right to vote was passed into law. I told my brother that I vote to honor those women, but just because you’re not a woman doesn’t mean you have no reason to vote.
I recalled a conversation I had with a particularly wise student who wanted to be a politician. I asked him why politics were so important to him. His response was, “No one else is going to fight for our rights. If we don’t, we’ll lose them.” At first I didn’t take him seriously because I took our rights for granted. But every day I realize more and more just how right he is, and why voting is not only a right but an obligation. I tried to impart the urgency of this to my brother.
A few days later, he told me that he had registered to vote, and I couldn’t have been happier that he intends to exercise his right as an American citizen. Like him, remember the men and women who fought for our right to choose who represents us—be vigilant, be informed, and most importantly, be a voter.