By Debi Lombardi, CVP Field Director
The right to vote is a critical piece of our civil rights. It wasn’t until the 15th Amendment was ratified in 1870 that African American men gained the right to the ballot box, almost a 100 years after the United States was founded. Still, weighted down by poll taxes, literacy tests, racism, fear mongering, and other means of oppression many did not vote or even get registered for nearly 100 more years.
The 1960s Civil Rights movement and the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 eventually enabled many African Americans to cast a ballot. Today, we celebrate one prominent leader of the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. During his famous “Give us the Ballot” speech, he states, “The denial of this sacred right is a tragic betrayal of the highest mandates of our democratic tradition. And so our most urgent request to the president of the United States and every member of Congress is to give us the right to vote.” The fight for access to the ballot for many Americans continues to this day and Dr. King’s words and efforts to protect the rights of all Americans inspire those who work to protect the right to vote.
Each Martin Luther King Day, Americans come together in acts of service to honor the Civil Rights leader. In light of King’s fight for voting rights and dedication to service, here are some ways you can participate in this day and continue Dr. King’s mission.
- Register to vote. The federal election is over but there will be many local and state elections in 2017 that you can participate in. Plus, it never hurts to make sure your voter registration is up-to-date.
- Register others to vote. If you’re the kind of person who is already civically engaged, help others learn how they get engaged as well by helping them register to vote. New registrants often need guidance when filling out their voter registration form. Send them a link to online voter registration or where they can find a form to print out.
- Read up on your representatives. Many new officials have been sworn in and many others will be continuing their job representing your community. Learn more about your local, state, and federal representatives, where they stand on issues, and how you can reach out to them.
- Attend your next city council meeting. Watch government in action. Many cities also have smaller neighborhood meetings or groups you can participate in as well.