By Father Jeremy Tobin, OPraem
The next time I appear here the election will be over. For many of us it couldn’t come sooner. This has been the meanest election cycle I can remember. However, this is Mississippi. When elections come and people talk about voting, another set of memories and values come to mind. The right to vote has never been universal, it was fought over. People died simply attempting to register to vote. Why is that?
Casting a ballot is exercising power. Votes either put people in office or get them out of office. The people choose. In our system of representative democracy we give power to those we elect to enact laws and policies we like or we vigorously oppose. They do that, we don’t. We can pressure them to do what we want, but others are pressuring them too. Our one direct most significant exercise in “people power” is to vote. If we don’t like them and we vote them out – that’s the people speaking.
This is why it is important to vote in the “down ticket races.” As we have seen, the president can be quite limited if Congress is controlled by the opposite party.
It is important to vote in every election, especially local ones. Those candidates can have direct impact on their constituents’ life styles.
The right to vote is one of our most basic rights. It guarantees that we have a say in government. The goal is always to expand the vote, make it easier to vote. The more voters the more honest and fair the election will be. Large voter turnouts prevents narrow interests from taking control.
When we look at our history, and reflect on all who have died to exercise the right to vote, there is no excuse to not to vote. Not voting is never a protest act, it is only is a vote for the winner.
It was demanding the right to vote that ended Jim Crow. When I see those old newsreels of young people sliding across the street under the pressure of firehoses for demanding the right to vote, I have to vote, even if I don’t like the choices. It was the struggle for equal access to the ballot box that galvanized the civil rights movement.
Reflecting on this precious right to vote, Fannie Lou Hamer comes to mind in her addresses at the Democratic Convention, her co-founding the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. The driving, insatiable thirst for people to have the right to vote and equal access to the whole process has ingrained the importance of voting in every election. To be registered to vote and to exercise that right is basic. Regardless how people can look at campaigns or feel the creepy paralysis of cynicism invading their thoughts, voting matters and voting decides.
Every election is important. This cannot be overstated. Our country has been divided for a generation. This division has been amplified by those who vote. Many people feel discouraged or think, “Does it really matter?” Yes it does. One trip to the precinct and casting your vote might not change the world. One election might not bring reconciliation to the nation. Change takes time. It takes persistence. The most important way to effect change is to vote. This is not to say, “Go vote and do nothing else.” No, people who are committed to causes must also speak out and do other things to educate motivate and organize people.
Jesus came proclaiming that the Kingdom of God is at hand. He also said “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” He also said “The worker is worthy of his pay.” The whole Catholic teaching on social justice can be found in the Bible. This teaching can inform us on how to vote.
The bishops speak of “Faithful Citizenship” and much of this issue will be devoted to that. My emphasis here is to get out and vote. Get to your precinct. Learn where it is. If you need help getting there, make plans.
I repeat, too many people have died so we all may have the right to vote. Not to vote is saying they died in vain. Did they? Of course not! So get out and VOTE!
(Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem, lives at the Priory of St. Moses the Black, Jackson.)