Sometimes people are all talk.
Just weeks after the incredible outpouring of love for the late John Lewis, civil rights icon, guess what happened in East Baton Rouge Parish’s Black community? An election was held with the chance for folks, especially Black voters, to show how much they loved and respected the voting rights work of Lewis and others.
Didn’t happen. That love for Lewis and his work dissolved as fast as a scoop of ice cream on pavement here on an August midday. Those photos and videos of Lewis getting the crap knocked out of him by lawmen at the famed Edmund Pettus Bridge didn’t nudge too many out the door.
About 18.7 percent of EBR’s Black registered voters came out to vote in races that involved judgeships and Baker City Council races — fewer than two in 10.
How bad was Black participation in East Baton Rouge Parish, where Blacks make up a large part of the voting population? You could fit all 21,000 who voted in Baton Rouge into the Memorial Stadium football seating. The problem, though, is the number of Black registered voters in EBR exceeds the 103,000-seat capacity of LSU Tiger Stadium.
Some might say, “There was not a large turnout in the White community, either.” That’s true, but think about history here. I don’t recall much historical evidence of folks trying to keep most Whites from voting. A White man not owning property once could not vote, but that was overcome; then being a White female would no longer be an impediment.
Black folk, well, that was different. In the South, Black folk had to be hung, set on fire, beaten to death, shot dead, and their homes and business burned, to earn the chance to be a whole citizen.
Now, take your argument and stack it on the growing pile of unacceptable excuses, such as the weather and not enough major stuff on the ballot.
Folks didn’t want to spend the 20 minutes it would have taken to vote. They had stuff to do. “Oh, there is a pandemic going on, and I don’t want to risk it.” With such a light turnout, if you had gone to the polls and saw a social-distancing problem, you could have told someone.
These same folk go to the grocery store and spend 25 minutes trying to determine what kind of cheese is best or what flavor of coffee can make that morning better. People who pass in the store aisles and in restaurants are often closer to you than they would be at the polls.
Perhaps you, the nonvoter, said the candidates weren’t exciting or they didn’t spend enough money promoting their election. Really? So what is my responsibility as a voter? Shouldn’t I try to find out about the people that can determine how things work in my life and those around me?
And there is social media, right?
Some might rationalize, “Well, this wasn’t big election: Just wait until the presidential election in November.” Oh, really. It’s the small local elections that really affect our day-to-day lives. A judge’s ruling can affect the lives of you, your children, your uncles and aunts.
Those old soldiers on the voting-rights battlefields years ago — beaten, maimed and killed — would not be overjoyed to know the beneficiaries of their struggles now sit on their hands instead of rushing to the polls.
No matter how you explain it, this is disheartening. We can’t be that lazy, that uncaring about ourselves and our bloody history concerning the right to vote.
As former President Barack Obama said: “There’s no such thing as a vote that doesn’t matter. It all matters.”
Someone said in a conversation about the lack of Black turnout and the hardships endured by Blacks to vote said: “Well, this isn’t about back then. This is a new day.” To that I say, “Without the sacrifice back then, back then would be today.” And “back then” could be “tomorrow” if we don’t fight to end voter suppression and gerrymandering.
For me, those people who suffered incredible indignities and death died for our right to vote deserve to see every one of us at the polls every time the opportunity is offered. Period.
Email Edward Pratt a former newspaperman, at email@example.com.