D. Kevin McNeir

Don’t Give Up the Fight or Your Right

By D. Kevin McNeir

Hundreds of thousands of Americans have already exercised their right in this year’s critically important midterm elections, either through mail-in ballots or early voting. Meanwhile, others will have their say and participate in the political process on Election Day – Tuesday, November 8. And while pre-election polls suggest that the economy and abortion rights top the list of concerns for most voters, I wonder if those being polled represent an accurate reflection of the diversity of today’s America, given differences among party affiliation, age, race, religion, education, and sexual orientation.

As for African Americans, while the economy undoubtedly remains at the forefront of our thoughts, we also find ourselves embroiled in a battle against an insidious history of policies that have systematically impeded Black progress since 1865. Since the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court’s Shelby ruling dismantled the Voting Rights Act of 1965, many voting districts across the nation have continued America’s long history of racial discrimination by changing voting requirements without the approval of the Department of Justice.

Blacks know without a shadow of a doubt that voter suppression remains alive and well in a variety of shapes and forms – from photo I.D. requirements to gerrymandering to poll closures. In addition, for those who are returning citizens and have paid their dues to society after committing and being convicted of felonies, voting remains a right that stands just beyond their reach in far too many portions of the country.

So, why should it matter? What difference does voting make? Whether you live in Trenton, New Jersey, and are concerned about the outcome of the current mayoral race in a municipality whose city council has been described by many as “dysfunctional,” or you live in Georgia, where Rev. Sen. Raphael Warnock is fighting the Trump-endorsed former NFL player Herschel Walker is in efforts to retain his seat while Democrat Stacey Abrams is trying for the second time to defeat Governor Brian Kemp, it’s clear that every vote matters. Some races wind up being just that close.

Here is my suggestion: why not make voting a family affair? That’s the way it was when I was growing up back in Detroit. Back in the 60s, Black families like mine taught their children about the importance of being actively engaged in the political process, which includes exercising our guaranteed right to vote as American citizens. Sometimes our reluctance, refusal, or decision to vote is guided by the persons on the ballot – like the first time that Barack Obama ran for president when Black folk across the U.S. stood in lines that circled city blocks, refusing to leave until their ballot had been cast. I find such behavior strange as my family didn’t base their voting practices on personalities, charisma, race, or religious affiliation. Instead, they confirmed their commitment to having their voice heard by voting every time the opportunity arose. Further, they took the time necessary to become educated about the candidates and conversant about the differences between those seeking office – from the president to district judges and school board representatives – up and down the ballot.

I was only a little boy when America when the Civil Rights Movement was at its zenith as Blacks made unprecedented progress in the struggle against racial injustice and in making known their demands for equal rights. I remember the horror and anguish that my parents and other elders experienced as our leaders were assassinated: John F. Kennedy, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Bobby Kennedy, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

During our annual car trips to Virginia, Maryland, Alabama, and northern Florida, I witnessed how they processed prejudice when we were refused admittance to or service hotels, restaurants, gas stations, and restrooms. And I learned that for change to come – permanent, life-altering change –the ballot box served as the most effective means to reshape society. After my parents and other adults had voted, I would see them leaving the polls with buttons or stick-on labels that read, “I voted today!” And I could see the pride on every face of the men and women who, by voting, had been presented with a button or label to wear on their chests, tantamount to a badge of honor.

We don’t need to tell young people tales from history about Blacks being beaten, intimidated, or systematically denied the opportunity to vote. However, these stories remain essential to our collective memory. The most effective means of passing on a tradition is to replicate it and share with youth why it matters.

If we want to see voter turnout meet or surpass previous highs, we must make voting fun and exciting and exercise our rights every time there’s an election. If we want to defeat voter suppression efforts, we must remain engaged in the battle. That’s how we change the world and empower the next generation to do even more extensive and more incredible things than we’ve accomplished. Don’t give up the fight or your right to vote!

D. Kevin McNeir (Dominic), an award-winning journalist, has been an editor and senior reporter with the Black Press for more than 25 years, honing his craft in Detroit, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami and Washington, D.C. chapter D.C. The consecutive, three-time Society of Professional Journalists – D.C. chapter

winner/finalist for Commentary; Criticism under the banner “The World According to Dominic” and a fellow with both the Journalists in Aging and Maynard 200 for investigative reporting, has long acknowledged writing to be his greatest passion, even since his childhood. He feels blessed to be able to continue to follow his dreams. Currently based in the Greater Washington Area, he can be reached at mcneirdk@gmail.com , @mcneirdk (Twitter) or Kevin McNeir (on Facebook).

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