Thursday, October 31, 2002
Read what civil-rights fighter Bob Moses, former Gov. William Winter, Jackson State professor C. Liegh McInnis, stay-at-home dad Greg Griffith, Millsaps student leader Jessica Knight and other Jacksonians say about voting. Their thoughts may surprise you
Is voting a right? A responsibility? A duty? A chore? If it's a right, then it's one that we may not necessarily take for granted, but it's a responsibility we may not always take seriously. Indeed, voting may just honestly not seem cool anymore, even after decades of MTV's "Rock the Vote" and "Boxers vs. Briefs" propaganda. Many potential voters, or past voters who've given it up, are now asking, What has voting gotten us? What does it matter?
The answer, hopefully, is contained within these pages. Of course, the exact answer will be different for each of us, which is why we've asked a variety of people in the community to weigh in with their opinions. The responses aren't all positive, and some may anger you, but we think the comments are worth hearing and thinking about. See if any of these categories fit you:
� You, like some of our writers, may feel more disenfranchised than you have in years, not just because you don't like the folks in power, but also because you don't like your district or your candidates or the looks you get when you show up at your polling place. Maybe you don't think your vote counts because you don't think they're counting your vote.
� On the other hand, maybe things are finally going your way—politically or economically or both—and after a long spell there, some common-sense ideas have come back up in politics, giving you something to cheer about and swelling you with pride. For you, maybe it's a little easier to get to the polls except, well, everyone else is going to vote the way you do, anyway, right? Does it really matter if you vote?
� Then there's the other category, along the lines of: They're all a bunch of thieves, anyway, and nothing ever comes of anything political. What's the point? Hold a sign? Punch a chad? What's the difference? It is the way it is, and it'll always be that way, so save your energy for Sony Playstation or sewing or playing music or—of course—shopping!
Who is right? At the Jackson Free Press, we lean toward the idea that you ought to exercise any muscles that you don't want to give up on completely, even if your sport of choice is snowskiing, and it seems like it's perpetually August. Others, as you'll see, have their own take on our great American tradition of democracy—including their opinions on whether the glory of that tradition is fading, already gone, or just cresting the horizon of a glorious comeback.
William Winter, 79, former governor of Mississippi
One of the most distressing and potentially devastating developments in our political system has been the recent trend of so many people and especially young people not exercising the right to vote. What are they thinking about?
After all, the kind of community and state and country we are going to live in is absolutely dependent on our expressing our choices at the ballot box. We can express our personal opinions all day long in any way we want to, but they don't count if they are not expressed by actually casting our votes. And if we don't bother to vote, we really don't have much grounds to complain about how public decisions are made. In other words, by not voting we, in effect, forfeit our ability to influence how our lives are impacted by political action.
This failure to take advantage of the opportunity to vote is a repudiation of the people who literally gave their lives to create the right to vote in the first place. When this country was founded, fewer than 10 percent of the people were permitted to vote. In most states, unless you were male, white and owned property, you were not eligible to vote. As a result this was a country run by the socially and economically elite.
Gradually down through the years we have reduced the exclusions. But that process has been difficult. Not until recently have we achieved anything like a democratic process. And now that we have, we see too many people excluding themselves. The hard-earned right to vote is seemingly no longer valued.
Maybe we have made it too easy. Maybe we should reverse the process that was in place in Mississippi and other states for so long. Then we had a poll tax that people had to pay before they could vote. The effect was to discourage many people from voting, especially poor white and black people against whom it was especially aimed. Maybe now we should turn that around and collect a tax from those people who do not vote. At least, it would represent a statement about the value of voting.
I do not suggest the above as a serious solution, but I do suggest a national campaign to emphasize how vital it is that our citizens take a more serious stake in the political process. We properly complain about the excessive influence of special interest groups and huge campaign contributions in politics. However, when our reaction to these developments is to stay away from the polls, we simply give these forces more say-so in who is elected and what policies will prevail.
There is one thing for certain. If we are disillusioned and disenchanted with politics, the way to correct and improve the situation is not by running away. If we do that we shall diminish our political system and ruin our country. This is no time, when there is so much at stake, to cut and run. This is when more of us need to be more involved in politics than we ever have before. Our lives, and more important, the lives of our children and grandchildren depend on it.
J. Bingo Holman, 31, bartender and JFP assistant editor
Women rule. Or we could. It's as simple as that. We make up the voting majority, 53 percent to be exact. Then why, I ask you, are the issues that are important to us not being addressed in Washington, or at home for that matter? It's because enough of us don't get our butts out of the house and into the polls on Election Day.
I am a woman. I am an American. I care about getting my insurance to pay for my birth-control pills and pap smears and mammograms. I care about making sure my parents can retire comfortably. I care about having the right to make my own choices. I care about the environment and the economy (both of which are in the toilet right now). I care about social security, welfare and child care. I care about teaching our children in public schools and keeping them away from guns.
Mississippi has lost a seat in Congress. We now have the chance to make a critical decision. Say that you vote for the lesser of two evils and think that your vote ultimately doesn't count. Well, sister, I'm here to tell you that it does. On a larger, grander scale than you think. Say the Republicans get control of the House as well as the Senate. It will mean our voices will not be heard. More women favor a Democratic approach to the issues that matter to us. You would be shocked to know what kinds of bills that a Republican House will try to push through under the radar. Ellen R. Malcolm, president of EMILY'S list (http://www.emilyslist.org), a non-profit organization that helps to elect women, says on their Web site: "From drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, to funneling government funds to religious organizations, to holding back international family planning funds, Bush is pursuing a conservative agenda that can only be stopped by a Democratic Congress." We desperately need such checks and balances.
Only six seats stand between us and a more progressive Democratic House. Guess what, ladies: We hold the key. We can bring home the bacon, but we have to stop at the polls on the way.
Christina Hoff Sommers, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and an anti-feminist, says, "What does it mean in the long run that we have females who are significantly more literate, significantly more educated than their male counterparts? It is likely to create a lot of social problems. This does not bode well for anyone." Ha! Women outnumber men in bachelor degrees 57 percent to 43 percent. Girls, we're smarter, more ambitious, and we can run this country the way it needs to be run. We can create solutions to social problems if we choose to speak up, vote and participate. The first step is going to the polls Nov. 5.
Women have a tremendous influence, maybe now more than ever. "As women we care so much about our families, education for the younger generation and retirement and health care for the older one. If we care, we owe it to them to vote," Malcolm said last week.
I care; do you? I am woman, watch me vote.
Brooks Elfert, 25, senior analyst, WorldCom
I like knowing that I have a part in electing the leaders of my state and country. Because I vote, I feel that my voice counts and that I have the right to express my opinions about decisions made by our leaders and how they are voting on certain issues. I also think it's important to vote based on one's personal beliefs and convictions—not necessarily a party or affiliation.
Michael Norris, 22, poet and Millsaps student
The percentage of Americans in this country that do not vote is growing rapidly. This is for a number of reasons. First of all, we don't feel like our vote counts. I mean, really, look at what happened in Florida during our last presidential election. They never intended on counting all those ballots! Secondly, what did we have to choose from? Al Gore (have you seen this guy?) and George W. Bush (an offical Skull & Bones member following in his father's blood-thirsty footsteps). Is this what our country has come to? Pick one. Hmmm … somehow it doesn't seem that easy to choose anymore. Republicrats, Depublicans; they're all a**holes!
I personally am not registered to vote, and I'm 22. I don't know if I ever will. I understand the scenario that if I don't vote things may never change, and maybe I'm just being irresponsible (I'm sure that would be a lot easier for you to tell yourself), but I don't trust politicians. I don't like the way they smile. I don't like the cowardly way they avoid questioning. Improving health care and education, that's all you hear. Take a moment to observe modern health care and education, will you? Where are the improvements?
People would love to say that young adults just don't care about their political environment. But that would be too easy. A lot of us don't watch the news, either. Maybe it's because we don't like being lied to. Maybe it's because there's never any good news on. Maybe we feel like we're being bought and sold. But who's the bidder?
Stacey Griffith, creative director and mother
I vote to protect all that I hold dear: my family, my freedom, justice, safety, a decent way of life. I believe that these holy values are jeopardized by the careless, one-dimensional thinking that is most often exhibited by those who espouse liberal views. Careful, educated, moral Americans are duty-bound to step up and vote.
Greg Griffith, 36, technology consultant and stay-at-home dad
Why do I vote? I vote because the only way to preserve and protect our system of democracy is to participate. I vote conservative because I believe that the best chance to achieve security and prosperity for my country and my family is by pursuing the goals that the conservative agenda comprises. Too many people who vote are under the mistaken assumption that the government is a better steward of our money than we are; that private enterprise is a bottomless pit of money to be taxed; that social change comes only from government prescription; that labor unions are actually good things; that parents should have no choice where they send their children to school; that the only way to address crimes committed with guns is to outlaw guns; and that military strength alone, never mind its use, is a bad thing. So until these people grow up, earn their own paycheck, and start thinking straight, grown-ups must go to the polls and help make sure that such fatuity is kept in check.
Bob Moses, 67, civil rights worker and math teacher
"They came up, stopped, and the fellow who was in the lead asked me what I was trying to do? Before I could answer he began to beat—hit at me. I covered my head and I was kneeling on the ground with my head covered and he was beating me for I don't know how long."
— Bob Moses, SNCC field report from McComb, Miss., 1961
Robert Parris Moses, a 26-year-old teacher from Harlem, arrived in Mississippi in the early 1960s. It was a time when black voting in the state was practically non-existent, thanks to Jim Crow laws, poll taxes and voter intimidation by the White Citizens Council, the Ku Klux Klan and everyday whites who did not want blacks registered. In the 1950s, Mississippi was a full 45 percent black, but less than 5 percent of blacks were registered to vote. Some Mississippi counties did not have a single registered black voter. In Amite, near where Moses was beaten that time, only one eligible black was registered out of 5,000 total. The state's so-called literacy test was a farce designed to make it easy to reject black voters; a common question, for instance, was, "How many bubbles in a bar of soap?"
Moses first traveled through the state in 1960 to recruit people for a SNCC conference and serendipitously met Amzie Moore, a local NAACP leader who would change Moses' life—and ultimately the future of voting in Mississippi. "He was my role model and mentor, and it started with voting," Moses said this month sitting in the algebra lab at Lanier High School. "We decided to focus on voting rather than public accommodation."
This shift in civil-rights strategy would prove to be revolutionary. Up until that point, the movement had largely focused on integrating buses, public bathrooms, lunch counters and the like. But Moore convinced Moses that a grass-roots voting-registration campaign would help bring blacks out of their isolation and give them something to fight for. Perhaps they could even find a political voice that could lead to more systemic change. Together they opened the state's first voter-registration school in Mississippi. They were determined to register blacks to vote.
"What we were struggling for was access. We needed the vote as a tool to organize for political access," Moses said.
The subtext, he added, was what to do with the vote when you get it—an issue still faced by African Americans and other minorities, he said. "How do you channel access into political accountability, knowledge and strategy? How use the vote to get strategic demands that are critical and met?"
Moses, who today lives in Jackson during the week and Cambridge, Mass, on the weekend, emphasizes that while his movement was successful in getting the vote for blacks in the South, they "reached a certain plateau" in the aim to achieve true political access for his race. "There is an uneven playing field across American politics," he said. He adds that his efforts to affect the political system are "over": "I'm not interested in electoral politics."
But he does go to the polls. "People need to vote, that's true. But we have a tough time motivating young people to vote." That is partly because U.S. politics have become so focused on being middle-of-the-road that many young people are turned off by it.
Moses-the-teacher believes education and literacy, especially in math, can prepare young people to take their place at the table, participate civicly and, yes, turn out to vote when they're old enough.
Moses and his family have run the Algebra Project since the early 1980s, teaching low-income, minority children mathematics skills that, in turn, prepare them to succeed in a high-tech world and overcome what Moses calls the "sharecropper education" too many blacks are offered.
"I think of myself and the work I do now as more akin to the 1960s," he said with his requisite quiet enthusiasm. "It's not work at the level of electoral politics; it's at the level of access."
The subtext to gaining, and using, the right to vote, he said, was always literacy—that was used to deny blacks the right to vote and that now is needed to make them want to. "The country can't revolve around a tight circle; you can't use the political machine to deny literacy and literacy to deny the political access."
— Donna Ladd
Stuart Rockoff, 33, Jewish historian
When I recently moved to Jackson from Austin I thought that I would vote absentee in Texas this November. There are a number of exciting, close races in Texas this year, including a chance to elect the first African-American senator from the South since Reconstruction. But I soon realized that I needed to vote in Mississippi, my new home. Registering to vote here was a symbolic way of cutting ties to my old home and joining a new community. Voting is an essential step to being active in a community and working to make it better. It's easy to forget, with all of the undemocratic forces and special interests exercising power in our political system, that all political power ultimately stems from voters.
Some people suggest that the reason so many people choose not to vote is that they see little difference between the two major parties. But considering the events of the past year, this view is no longer tenable. Quite simply, it mattered that Bush defeated Gore in the 2000 election. The huge tax cut has helped turn budget surpluses into long-term deficits. Social programs wither due to lack of funding. If Gore had won, we would not be about to invade Iraq. However you feel about these issues, you can't deny that Democrats and Republicans would have approached them differently. It matters whether the Democrats or the Republicans control the House of Representatives. As a result, it matters whether Chip Pickering or Ronnie Shows wins in Mississippi. Therefore, it matters that you vote on Election Day.
One of my first weekends in Mississippi, my wife and I went to Philadelphia for a memorial service marking the anniversary of the deaths of civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner. These men were murdered while trying to ensure that all Mississippians had the right to vote. Considering the legacy of this struggle, how can one stay home on Election Day? By voting in Mississippi, we are all honoring their sacrifice.
Claretta Hasberry 24, Tougaloo student and writer
I don't vote because of the treatment I've gotten when attempting to vote. I live in the Tougaloo community and as a freshman, I was approached on campus by representatives of a sorority. They informed me that they were hosting a voter-registration drive and asked if I was already a registered voter. I said no, and they gave me a form to fill out. The form apparently never made it to wherever it was supposed to be sent, so needless to say I was not able to vote. The next year I went to North Jackson Elementary with my family, who all are registered to vote there, and was told that I should register in Madison County in order to vote. I did this, and I was still denied the chance to vote because I was not listed in Madison County records. I once again filled out a form for Hinds County and was sent another letter stating that I must register in Madison County. I am 24 years old, and I have never voted. I am tired and discouraged, and I feel cheated out of my right to vote. I am currently seeking a resolution to my dilemma.
Ward Emling, 48, manager, Mississippi Film Office
I vote because it is, quite simply (and tritely) my responsibility. In my years of opportunity, I have only not voted a handful of times. Every process of every community depends on the very simple, though stunning, act of voting. Debate is necessary and free speech is essential, but the right to vote is the seed of a republic. The voice of my vote allows me in. It may not be the most vociferous thing that I do as a citizen, but it is certainly the most heartening.
Jessica Knight, vice president, Millsaps Student Association
Voting is supposedly a right guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution for all citizens of the United States. In this country the right to vote has not been guaranteed to all individuals. Minorities did not get the chance to vote until 1870, with the ratification of the 15th Amendment. Women did not get the chance to vote until 1920, with the ratification of the 19th Amendment. It wasn't until 1964 that the use of poll taxes and other unjustified means were barred by the Constitution, with the ratification of the 24th Amendment. It took a long time for people to obtain voting rights, and today many people do not exercise their constitutional right to vote.
Why do I vote? For me it is not a question of why, but rather why not. So many people have fought and protested so that every individual in this country could be guaranteed the right to vote. It is unfathomable that people can shrug off their duties as an American citizen and not vote. The apathetic belief that your vote doesn't count is a very ridiculous state of mind to me. The saying should go something more like, "if you don't vote, you don't count."
Many young people today believe that our generation has an important voice, but no one seems to hear it. But in the 1998 congressional elections, only 16 percent of 18-24-year-olds voted. Voting is one of the easiest ways to control how your government affects you. If you want something changed—go vote; if you don't like your congressman—go vote; if you don't like the policies of your president—go vote. I believe that it was very evident in the 2000 presidential election that every vote does count.
I vote because I care, and I also vote because I can. It is the right of every American citizen to vote, so exercise your right. Remember if you don't vote, then you don't count.
Dick Molpus, former Mississippi secretarty of state
I vote because it matters. I'm convinced that there are a majority of people in our state who want to lift up all people. The question is, is that majority going to participate? I've voted in elections when there was no question that I was not going to prevail. I've also voted and participated in elections where I made the difference. Often, it's hard to tell between the two.
I think we're going to have an African-American statewide elected official in the future. I don't know whether it will be five years or 15 years from now. There are black leaders emerging who are reconcilers, who speak for the majority of people in the state. It'll be a real test of whether we've overcome racial divisiveness when that person runs for office.
C. Liegh McInnis, 31, poet and Jackson State University professor
To vote or not to vote; oddly enough, that is still a question. The right to vote for African Americans has been and continues to be viewed as the supreme act to creating African American first-class citizenship. Yet, the state of Mississippi has more publicly elected African American officials than any other state, and Afro-Mississippians remain in the worst conditions in all areas, including the poverty line, incarceration and education. Voting has not worked for Afro-Mississippians because voting cannot address the three major flaws hindering first-class citizenship. Firstly, America is not based on or founded on the Constitution; it is based on the gaining of capital. Secondly, U. S. capitalism is based on exploitation. In order for American capitalism to continue working, there needs to be a permanently assigned labor class, which means we must limit some group's education so that they will have no choice but to serve as cheap labor. Thirdly, the African-American struggle for liberation is not a physical struggle but a mental and psychological struggle. Voting cannot solve these problems.
Most improvements for African Americans have not come from voting but from the "direct action" of marching and boycotts. And of the two, boycotts have been most effective. This is because boycotts go to the heart of Americana—making money. Only when whites fear the loss of capital either through black boycotts or black labor strikes are whites ready to concede enough to pacify African Americans.
Many African Americans vote because they buy the lie that it works, even when it has not. When most African Americans vote, they are trying to elect someone who has the ability to curry the favor of whites. They are hoping that the act of voting will allow them to gain a few crumbs from the American pie.
I continue to live as a Black Nationalist because I do not believe that the current position of Africans is the one that God has planned for us. I believe in the genius of Africans, which keeps me from believing that God wants us to be a second-tier people. This is also why I do not vote. I cannot continue to vote for African Americans who do not believe that we have the right and the ability to achieve sovereignty. When Africans are able to see themselves in the image of God, then they will be able to liberate themselves.
8,000 Reasons to Vote compiled by senior editor Joanne Prichard Morris.
Voting is important and every vote counts(Unless you live in Florida then it's a crap shoot) ...but if you really want to make a difference you need to pony up and put your money where your mouth is...CONTRIBUTE!!! to your candidate. There are good people out there running but never raise enough money to be competitive...Just think if Ralph Nader had the big bucks like Gore and Bush. Dont ever think you cant afford to even if it's $5 ..CONTRIBUTE!!!..I'll bet you that Facist across the street did with all the Pickering and Bush yard signs.. So fight Conservative GroupThink and Contribute now.
- Bryan Grundon