Where I talk about voting
I have continued this November to write in my journal about the things for which I am thankful. I have not published these posts yet but I wanted to share what I wrote yesterday.
I am thankful for the right to vote, and to participate in the political process, to share my ideas publicly and freely without fear of going to jail or being executed.
Many things happened this week as people went to the polls and voted and then waited to hear the results. There was a lot of mud slinging in all of the campaigns I witnessed. As a resident of Ohio, let me tell you that there was a non-stop barrage of ads, rhetoric, flat-out lies and lots and lots of weird and some smart commentary happening about what the American people wanted for our future.
The thing that is often lost in the political process is the celebration of choice. Unlike other nations, we actually get to choose not only our political officials but a host of other things as well. As a culture, I believe we have gotten so used to voting for things, and sharing our opinions about who we like on competition shows that we often forget that voting is a privilege we should not take for granted, ever.
Yesterday, I went on a photowalk around campus, specifically around Western campus. And though I teach in a building on that side of campus I had never before seen the memorial to Freedom Summer 1964. Freedom Summer was an effort to register as many African Americans to vote as possible. It originated in Mississippi (because it had the lowest percentage of African Americans registered to vote in the country due to voter suppression and fear) but thousands of volunteers from other states were involved, including two-week orientation sessions held at Western College for Women in Oxford, Ohio, now part of Miami.
Because it was 1964 and many residents of Mississippi and other parts of the South were resistant to any change in their society and because hatred and misinformation seem to spread easily, there was a great deal of violence during this effort. The project itself lasted ten weeks and included the following violent acts:
- four civil rights workers were killed
- at least three Mississippi blacks were murdered because of their support for the Civil Rights Movement
- four people were critically wounded
- eighty Freedom Summer workers were beaten
- one-thousand and sixty-two people were arrested (volunteers and locals)
- thirty-seven churches were bombed or burned
- thirty Black homes or businesses were bombed or burned
On June 21, 1964, 3 activists and workers were arrested by a Neshoba County deputy sheriff and member of the KKK. They were held in jail until and after nightfall, released into a waiting ambush by Klansmen who abducted and killed them.
The 3 men were "missing" for almost 3 months. The FBI investigated and finally discovered not only their bodies but the bodies of eight other black men in the swamps, three of whom were identified as being associated with Civil Rights and the voter registration movement. The other five were never identified.
Out of the violence and the outrage that followed, out of the efforts and subsequent protests, media attention, etc. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed, which outlaws discriminatory voting practices. The Supreme Court is planning to revisit the act and determine if there is still a need for a section of it (Section 5) which requires states local governments, mostly in the South, to obtain permission from the Justice Department or a federal court before making changes that affect voting.
I was humbled by the memorial which is an ampitheatre where the events of the Freedom Summer are etched into the stone and from your seat, you can read the names, dates and places of this incredibly important period of history.
I couldn't stop thinking about the election: about the father I saw who was so proud to watch his son vote for the first time, about all of the people who waited in line for hours to vote, the stories I heard from my friends in Chicago who had to drive to several polling places before finally able to vote. In so many ways, I feel lucky to be able to make my voice heard not just online but every single day when I teach, talk to students, volunteer, and every four years when I cast my ballot.
Now, however, I realize I have many more people to appreciate and be grateful for, people who died for the voting rights they believed in and I sincerely hope that the Supreme Court takes all of this into consideration, this particular election year when so many people ran into so many problems while voting and does not change or alter the Voting Rights Act.
Here are some of the photos from my walk yesterday: