The power of one vote

Published 10:06 pm Tuesday, November 14, 2017

I spoke for fewer than five minutes. I had to leave Montgomery immediately to travel to Atlanta and on to Boston.

The speech, if one can call it that, was at the Alabama New South Coalition Annual Fall Convention in Montgomery.

Some people have asked for a copy of the video or audio. I did not know that it was recorded.

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After these requests, I thought I might as well use Sketches to share some of what I said or tried to say on this occasion.

I say, “tried to say,” because I don’t recall exactly what I said.

First, let me state that it was not a political speech in the usual sense. No candidate was endorsed. No candidate was attacked. No names of living persons were ever called. However, the power of voting was detailed.

Changing Alabama for the better was raised loud and clear. Changing America for the better was lifted high and clearly. But no names were called and no officials or prospective officials were held responsible.

I talked about the power of one vote. I talked about this critical time in which we find ourselves. I talked about how so many of us believe that we only have one vote and that one vote doesn’t count.

The statement that we have just one vote is false. We have many votes. And each vote counts. We have a vote for each position on each ballot.

Sometimes we have more than 30 positions on a single ballot. We have votes in national, state, district, county and municipal elections. We have votes in primaries, run-offs, general elections and referendums.

Over a four-year period we could easily have 60 or more votes. When we think we have just one vote, we minimize our power. It becomes an excuse for our not voting, and we de-power ourselves.

We never know how our vote or failure to vote will come together with other votes to change the course of history. History is littered with examples of how just one vote made a powerful historical difference that impacts us right now. When we look at just one moment in time, we de-power ourselves. We also empower those who oppose us. We must look back and forward.

I talked about how one vote changed the United States and the world. Texas became a state by just one vote. Otherwise it would have been an independent country. If it had not become a state in these United States, we may not have had a President Lyndon B. Johnson. Therefore, we may not have had a 1963 Civil Rights Act or 1965 Voting Rights Act. Many of us here and now may not have the legal right to vote or the right of full citizenship.

California became a state by one vote. If California had not become a state, it would have been an independent country. Therefore, we may not have had Earl Warren as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. We might have legal segregation in education and in many other areas. “Separate but equal” might still be an excuse for legal oppression.

Rutherford B. Hayes became president of this country by one electoral vote. The congressman who cast that one electoral vote became a congressman by one vote. President Rutherford B. Hayes then pulled all federal soldiers out of the South leaving those recently freed from slavery at the mercy of the Ku Klux Klan and others of like mind. One more vote could have saved us 100 years of racial oppression.

It is said that Adolph Hitler became the leader of the Nazi Party by one vote. He then became leader of all of Germany and launched World War II. If one more had voted or voted differently, we may not have lost millions of lives on battlefields and millions more in concentration camps.

One vote will be powerful in Alabama. One vote will be extremely powerful in Washington, D.C.. The Affordable Care Act, what most people call Obamacare, exists today by virtue of one vote.

Other measures passed or failed to pass the U.S. Senate by just one vote. One vote in the U.S. Senate can mean the difference between holding on to the future or rushing back to the past.

The outcome of the Dec. 12 U.S. Senate election can send a powerful message to all candidates in 2018. Because of the great challenge in the U.S. Senate race, I ended my “speech” with the story of my dear deceased mother who birthed 13 children. One child died as a baby, and one died in the Vietnam War. At one point, eleven persons — nine children and a mother and father — lived in a three-room house: a kitchen, a middle room and a front room.

Sometimes when real hard times were upon us, my mother, Ola Mae Sanders, would sit in the front room in the only chair we had and make us sit on the floor in front of her.

Then she would say, “Children, things are always kind of bad with this big ‘po’ family, but they are real bad now.”

Then she would go quiet, forcing us to focus even more on the moment. Then she would say, “But don’t y’all worry. I am at my best when things get bad.” This approach always empowered us. It helped us to be at our best when things got bad.

As I talked, I fought to stop tears from flowing down my cheeks.

Things are truly bad now. I do not have to list those things that make the situation so bad. You know them all too well. I know that all of us have some of that “Ola Mae spirit” in us.

We have to be at our best. If we are at our best, we will make Alabama and the U.S.A. so much better. It is a matter of just one vote. I then left for Atlanta and on to Boston.