SANDERS: People died fighting for right to vote

Published 8:17 pm Tuesday, December 5, 2017

I am going to vote on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017. I am going to vote because my vote matters. I am going to vote because your vote matters. I am going to vote because my vote is my voice. I am going to vote because my mother and father were denied the right to vote for most of their lives. I am going to vote because I couldn’t vote in Alabama when I became of age. I am going to vote because too many are working to make it more difficult for me and others to vote. I am going to vote because people died so I and others could vote.

This election will be close. My vote and your vote may well make the difference in who is elected to fill this U.S. Senate seat for Alabama. And whoever is elected to the United States Senate may well determine whether America moves forward or slides backward. My vote and your vote can help America move forward.

I could not vote in Alabama when I turned 18 or 19 or 20 or 21. Most black folks in Alabama could not vote at the time. My mother, who was born in 1921, could not vote until she was in her forties. My father, born in 1914, could not vote until he was in his fifties. Not being able to vote as a grown man made me feel that I was less than people of other races. I don’t want to go back to those days again.

I fought for the right to vote. I helped organize voting rights activities while I attended Talladega College in 1964 and 1965. I came to St. Jude City near Montgomery in 1965 and marched the last leg of the Selma-to-Montgomery March. On that occasion, I heard Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ask “How long?” and the crowd respond, “Not long!”  I went to Lowndes County in 1966 to help get out the vote. I have worked the entire 46 years I have been in Selma trying to forge the right to vote into the action of voting. I led voter education and voter registration drives. I led get out the vote drives. I did this first in Dallas County, then in the West Alabama Black Belt and then statewide. I also went to Washington, D.C. a number of times to stop bad voting legislation.

The United States Senate is closely divided: 52 Republicans and 48 Democrats and Independents.  A margin of one vote in the U.S. Senate allowed the Affordable Care Act to continue providing healthcare to multitudes. If the Affordable Care Act is repealed, an estimated 43,000 people will die every year. It is truly a matter of life and death for many.

My vote is my voice. I want my voice to be heard over and over again. I want my voice to be heard every time a vote is taken in the United States Senate. My vote is my first voice, and I want my first voice to be heard. I want my voice to help make laws not just protest laws.

The struggle for the right to vote did not end in 1965 with passage of the Voting Rights Act. It has continued to this very day. In 2011, the Alabama Legislature passed an act to require voter photo I.D. This act makes it more difficult for the young, the old and the poor to vote. I fought against this legislation. I fought the closing of drivers’ license offices, which made it more difficult for individuals to get driver’s license that can be used as voter photo I.D. Several years ago, I showed up at my voting place to vote. My name was not on the voting roll.

We called the voter registrars. One said that I must have moved. I told them that I had lived in the same house since 1979. He then said that I must not have voted in the last several elections.

I said I not only voted in every election but had been elected as Alabama State Senator in every legislative election since 1983. I also ran for U.S. Congress once and for Presidential Delegate a number of times. Nevertheless, I had to vote a challenge ballot, which is usually not counted and is not secret.

If a sitting state senator can be taken off the voting rolls, think of what happens to those with no position. I just want the right to vote to be unfettered. I want everyone to vote. I am going to vote because people died struggling for the right to vote. Finally, I am going to vote because it’s the right thing to do.

As a citizen, voting is not just my right but my duty.