There’s a saying, “The only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.”
The National Action Network recently wrapped up our Legislative and Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. During the two-day conference, we discussed issues like jobs and the economy, technology, immigration reform, education, environmental issues, the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative, and most importantly, voting rights. When we examine the issues facing our communities, there seem to be too many to battle and many people regularly ask me, “Where do we begin?”
We must begin at the beginning.
The right to vote is preemptive of all other rights and is the thing we must fight for first. Without the right to vote, you are voiceless on the issues and carry no weight with the elected officials whose job it is to protect your interests. But if you aren’t voting, they aren’t accountable to you and the likelihood that they will protect the things that matter most to you and your families are significantly lessened.
Most importantly, the people truly do have the power. As we’ve recently seen with Congressman Eric Cantor, when the people speak using their vote, even the seemingly mighty can fall.
I recently had an opportunity to talk with young women who are part of the Women in Entertainment EmpowermentNetwork’s (WEEN) summer academy in the field of entertainment. As I talked about the threats to voting rights, they were shocked. “I feel I’m engaged…but I realize after this conversation that I’m not as engaged as I thought,” said one young woman.
It’s not an uncommon phenomenon. People watch the news, they read the papers, but with our 24-hour news cycle, the news isn’t news for long. More importantly, the story about the threats to voting rights won’t easily find its way to your television set or even your average newspaper. It’s an issue that we need to spread through grassroots means – conversations with your friends at the church picnic, at poker night with the guys, as a topic of discussion on your Facebook page, or with your relatives at the family reunion.
We need to create a groundswell around this issue and remember what happened in 2010. Better yet, as I told the young ladies in the WEEN Academy, remember 1883. That was the year the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Civil Rights Act of 1875 that banned public discrimination was unconstitutional.
After that, it took 81 years to gain back public accommodation rights in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Of the things potentially at stake in this upcoming election is the nomination of U.S. Supreme Court Justices by the President. It could mean that the current court, which some have viewed as an activist court, could become more so. The only way to make sure we aren’t on the menu is to ensure that we are at the table.