Marchers walked, and Rogers waited (let that sink in for a moment!)
Those words are from the mouth of South Carolina senator Jim Clyburn at a rally to support presidential candidate Joe Biden. So, if ever you doubted the power of words in changing a trajectory, those words should put that doubt to rest. You see, with those words Biden rose from the ashes of defeat in three earlier primaries to leapfrog other candidates into front runner status. That cascaded into a clean sweep in seven states since then.
Let that sink in for a moment.
Okay, who was Mr. Clyburn speaking to, the ones who came out in droves to cast game-changing votes? Primarily AfricanAmericans!
But let’s step back. Almost 92 million eligible Americans didnot vote in the 2016 presidential elections. In the 2014 midtermelections, an estimated 143 million eligible Americans failed tovote, the lowest voter participation in 72 years. And add to that, outstanding African American gubernatorial candidates in a few states suffered close losses due, in part, to critically low voter turnout along with, some say, voter suppression.
Those are the facts folks. You can’t make this stuff up.
Now if these facts aren’t cringe-inducing enough, well there’re reasons for hope. You see, after the powerful message South Carolina sent, equally impressive numbers of African American and other Mississippians answered the call. And folks in Virginia, my home state, Texas, North Carolina and Alabama too. Here’s the breakdown of percentages of African Americans who voted for Biden in South Carolina (61%) and the following week on Super Tuesday:
69% Virginia, 60% Texas, 60% North Carolina, 72% Alabama.
Let all that sink in for those who underestimate the collective power of the African American vote.
Recently I wrote about my trip to Selma, Alabama – yep, that same Alabama that turned out 72% of black folks to vote for Biden – to take part in the commemoration of “Bloody Sunday”. I wrote about the harrowing 54 -mile trip between Montgomery and Selma, the route many of the courageous walked on foot for the right to vote… our right to vote! (Incidentally, it took the 3200 marchers five days to complete that walk).
So, with the distance between those Alabama cities in mind, here’s a thought exercise for you. Approximately how many miles are there between your place of residence and the nearest voting station? Take a wild guess, or just Google to find the distance. And approximately how long would it take for you to drive – or walk– that distance?
Let that sink in for a moment.
Turning now to the most common reasons folks don’t vote, among them:1. All politicians are corrupt so why bother?2. I voted before but nothing has since changed.3. (Thelatest) With the coronavirus threat, I will avoid going out a lot in public.4. I hate waiting in long lines!
Now although each excuse deserves to be dismantled, Pulitzer Prize winning writer Leonard Pitts puts the “waiting in long lines” one into perspective:
“Six hours! It took a man named Hervis Rogers that long to do so in Tuesday’s Democratic primary. He did not leave his polling place in Houston until 1:30 Wednesday morning — the last person to cast his ballot. “I wanted to get my vote in to voice my opinion,” he told KTRK, a local TV news station. “I wasn’t going to let anything stop me, so I waited it out.” And if you’re wondering why Rogers had to go through that ordeal just to vote, the answer is simple: He is a black man in America. More to the point, he’s a black man in a Southern state with a sordid history of disenfranchising voters of color.”
– Leonard Pitts, Miami Herald, 3/6/20
So, marchers walked on “Bloody Sunday” and Rogers waited for six hours in a line to cast his vote.
Let that sink in for a moment!
© Terry Howard is an award-winning writer and storyteller. He is a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, The American Diversity Report, The Atlanta Business Journal, The Echo World, Black Market.com, The Douglas County Sentinel, The Chapel Hill News & Views, The Shenandoah Valley Hit, co-founder of the “26 Tiny Paint Brushes” writers’ guild, and recipient of the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King Leadership Award. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.