By Dr. Shantella Y. Sherman
When presidential nominee Warren Harding addressed the nation in 1920 concerning those issues he believed threatened to destroy the country from within, it was a clarion call encouraging Americans to return to customs.
“America’s present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration; not agitation, but adjustment; not surgery, but serenity; not the dramatic, but the dispassionate; not experiment, but equipoise…” he said. Those concerns — a century ago — included prohibition, interwar year economic malaise, the ongoing Spanish flu epidemic, and white mob violence in the form of race riots across the country that brought death and destruction to once-peaceful communities.
More than 100 years later, many carry similar sentiments and concerns in tow and crave more than anything, a return to something that resembles “normal.” In addition to political divisiveness and a surge in social unrest, the U.S. faces financial uncertainty, an unrelenting health pandemic, and the resulting loss of social mobility.
Harding’s equipoise may be needed, but will voting turn the tide toward healing?
In recent years Americans have overwhelmingly disconnected from the voting process, with a mere 126 million votes counted in the 2016 presidential election — representing about 55 percent of voting-age citizens. This meant that even as poll watchers celebrated the uptick from 53.5 percent in 1996, only about half of the nation’s eligible voters bothered to participate in the election process.
The concept of “normal” only exists for a nation inside the parameters of each citizen taking seriously their civic duties, particularly voting and jury service. Ironically, these are the two obligations taken most for granted and unceremoniously set aside regularly in recent history.
Never forget that there was a time when Black people in America were not allowed to serve on juries. African Americans were also not allowed to bring charges against a white person for a crime or testify against a white person in court. Today, a single Black person seated on a jury could be the difference between an indictment or a release — a custodial sentence or a fine — life or death. Do your civic duty and answer the jury summons when it arrives. This is your moral and civic obligation. Exercise your right as a U.S. citizen.
Also, remember that every election is local. When we consider that everyday interactions are political — like those residents across the country who battled local merchants with “Don’t Shop Where You Can’t Work” protests — we take voting for aldermen, council members, ward representatives, and mayors more seriously.
Not only are federal and state politicians voted into office, but so too are judges, sheriffs, prosecutors, school boards, and public housing boards. Imagine how many of the disparities in policing, mass incarcerations, school funding, and housing equity could be addressed if voters pulled the ballot lever for candidates committed to change.
Don’t like the candidates? Well, welcome to America. Run yourself! Encourage someone who has the grit to get in and do the job to run for office and then support them all the way to victory. This is a democracy and one of the few places on the planet where you can pencil in a name on a ballot. Hell, you can even pencil in your own name!
If those you have elected to office are not putting your needs and those of the communities they serve before their own interests — vote them out of office. It is late in the day. No popularity, terms of service, swag, or smooth talking can necessarily lead the charge of battle into the ongoing war for race equity in areas of health, housing, education, and economics and prison reform.
No more whining, whingeing, or waffling.
This is the District of Columbia, where we continue to fight for Home Rule. Residents elect a non-voting Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives who can draft legislation but cannot vote. We have no voice in Senate Committees or on the Senate Floor. Additionally, District residents have no say in the determination of who should serve as leadership for federal agencies, serve as U.S. Ambassadors to foreign countries, sit on federal court benches, or serve in the U.S. Supreme Court. This is true even for the federal courts within D.C.’s boundaries.
Again, there is no excuse not to vote (or serve on jury duty).
As you enjoy the Congressional Black Caucus Fund’s Annual Legislative Conference, be reminded of your civic duty to fight the good fight, always, with a purpose that protects your future and that of your progeny.