by Anika Bastin (’23) | November 16, 2020
Any mention of the year 2020 invokes mixed, usually negative, emotions in almost everyone, due to a global pandemic and a racial reckoning in the U.S. One of these deep-rooted problems is at the forefront of everyone’s mind: America’s treatment of people of color. The Saint Francis Black Student Union (BSU), in partnership with the Saint Francis Black Alumni Association, sought to shed light on the importance of voting, especially in the Black community.
The virtual meeting on October 29 that was open to all emphasized the hardships the Black community faced in securing their right to vote and the importance of exercising this right. The Zoom meeting began by highlighting the late Representative John Lewis of Georgia, a civil rights activist who worked alongside Martin Luther King, through a video that depicted the struggle that African Americans faced, as well as the horrors that those who fought for freedom were subject to. The BSU moderator, Mrs. Jackson, explained that although the right to vote was technically granted by 1870, members of the government fought to keep Black voters away from polls, by instituting literacy tests and simply turning them away from voting stations. This injustice inspired the marches from Selma to Montgomery, a nonviolent protest comparable to what we see today through the Black Lives Matter movement, and one that resulted in seventeen activists being hospitalized by police attacks. However, the community persisted in its struggle towards the right to vote without persecution; President Johnson and Congress finally enacted the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to protect voter equality, helping the Black community.
Voting is sacred in that it determines the very makeup of America, from local to federal governments. No one would agree more than Lisa Gauthier, Saint Francis alumni, former member of the Black Student Union, and current Mayor of East Palo Alto. Through working at a local level to spur change and create a more inclusive community for all, she met former President Obama and Representative Lewis. As a guest of the Black Alumni Association, she highlighted how, despite the fraught path to achieving the right to vote for Black Americans, many still fail to exercise the right. In the 2016 election, for example, President Donald Trump won Tennessee by eleven thousand votes, but one hundred ten thousand Black voters did not vote; similar patterns were observed in Georgia and Florida. However, she emphasized that voting for the President is not the only vote that counts. Staying informed about all branches of government is extraordinarily important, as the President is not the only decision-maker in our complex system of government. Mrs. Gauthier mentioned that while many point to President Obama’s lack of productivity in his last quarter as a failure, they fail to understand that due to a lack of engagement in voting for Congressional and Senate positions, a right-wing Senate and Congress blocked any move in favor of Democrats. Thus, staying informed on all positions and members of the government, and voting accordingly, is exceedingly important to enact meaningful reform.
Voting is a crucial right that allows voters to project their desires onto America’s future, and keeping this right safe for all is of key importance. Mrs. Gauthier highlighted nonpartisan sources of information such as the League of Women Voters and ballot guides as crucial methods of informing oneself, and though the 2020 election has already been decided, key elections like these will continue. The major takeaway from the meeting was that the road to voting rights for people of color was rocky; thus, this right is extraordinarily important and should be exercised with care.
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