I tried to whip up some interest in folks to get them to the polls in my neck of the woods last week. Even my wife joined in on Facebook, telling folks that she had voted that morning and that they should follow her to the polls.
I started early in the week on Facebook pushing the idea that everyone should vote. It didn’t matter who was running or what else was on the ballot. Even seemingly insignificant stuff can have significance.
That was part of my universal pitch. You needed to vote.
I tried a different, more aggressive tactic with my African-American friends. I used pictures of people that were beaten on Bloody Sunday at the Edmond Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., along with a photo of the four little girls blown apart while at Sunday school in the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., and the police dogs attacking black folk seeking civil rights and the right to vote in the same city.
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How could you look at the baton beating taken by men, women and teenagers at the foot of the Edmund Pettus bridge by law enforcement officers and not feel compelled to vote, no matter what your ethnic background? That incident was shown worldwide and cast our nation into shame around the globe.
I hoped that my Facebook post would be shared by friends and ignite some excitement. I kind of knew it was going nowhere, but it was at least something. Well, blah. Folks were, I guess, too darn busy, disinterested or just found voting a pain.
Turnout statewide was 12.5 percent.
What’s worse, I don’t know what happened on my street. Almost every house has two cars in the driveway. They didn’t have to walk to the precinct.
When I went to vote, I was number 38 to cast my ballot in the precinct. And, that was at 4 p.m. There was no tidal wave of voters to follow me. By the way, there are over 100 registered voters on my street alone.
I was disheartened to see the low numbers. Even the poll workers said it was sad. An older gentleman, voting at the same time, said “I hope my vote helps.” I was proud and happy to see him.
I heard a political commentator say during a TV interview after the polls closed that the voters didn’t find much out there that interested them so they stayed at home. Heartbreaking.
Really, I don’t get it. Every election is important.
I feel extra committed because I come from a time when the media carried stories of African Americans being lynched, blown up, intimidated, drowned, fire bombed, shot and beaten just for mentioning the right to vote, let along actually trying to register themselves or others to vote.
Those photographs I showed on my Facebook page happened during my lifetime.
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Every time there is an election, those stories along with the recollection of those tragic pictures and the horrid videos from those days gets me to the polls. I come from a time when I knew of black political groups having to meet in secret to try to discuss political voting strategy, fearing the establishment political power structure would come after them.
It is difficult to reconcile this laissez faire relationship with the signature freedom that was so hard fought to obtain. I look at photographs from war torn countries where people stand in line for hours and hours, their lives threatened, to cast a ballot.
Shame on us for what we have become. The presidential, governor’s and mayor’s race should not be the only race for which we feel the need to get to the polls. It’s the smaller elections that mean so much and can have a lasting effect on our daily lives.
There is a great quote about not voting from George Jean Nathan, an early 20th century drama critic and magazine editor. “Bad officials are the ones elected by citizens who do not vote.”
Email Edward Pratt, a former newspaperman who writes a weekly Advocate column, at firstname.lastname@example.org.