Voting carries power, even when you don't

Opinion: Columns

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By Rev. Paul Jakes

As an African American pastor and grassroots activist in Chicago, I hope to invoke a determination in my people to exercise your right to vote in our upcoming 2018 gubernatorial election. 

It doesn't matter what age you are or the generation in which you were born. You may be a traditionalist, Baby Boomer, Generation X, Millennial, or even a Centennial, but let me remind you that we live in a representative democracy. This means our governmental officials are voted in to represent us, the people — African American people. So in every election, whether you want to or not, exercise your right to vote! You choose a candidate either by committing to your right to vote or omitting that privilege by not voting.

Listen intently as I set the record straight. Members of Generation X up through the Centennials have not had many opportunities to see or hear the African American community actively protest for our voting privileges and other freedoms. African American history is not taught in our schools, so they are not exposed to the cost of freedom, so they often forego their voting privileges. And we, the Baby Boomers and traditionalists, have failed to successfully educate this generation well about "the struggle." So let me give us all a little history lesson about some who laid down their lives for our voting rights.

It was on a first Sunday, March 7, 1965. The Brown Chapel African American Episcopal Church congregation of Selma, Alabama would have been kneeling at an altar rail to receive Holy Communion. On this Sunday, 100 individuals (many of whom were members of the church) decided to unite to fight for their civil rights and voting freedom. They banned together and marched across the Edmond Pettis Bridge. Just as Christ shed His blood and sacrificed his life for our spiritual freedom, on this "Bloody Sunday" these freedom fighters made the ultimate sacrifice and laid down their lives so that they and generations to come would receive the right to vote. These brave people had great determination and were tired of our people being mistreated and were willing to die for it! Over 50 people were injured out the 100 who marched that day, as the now U.S. Congressman John Lewis and the late Rev. Hosea Williams courageously led them in protest. We thank God for their courage and sacrifice!

The efforts of the freedom riders and fighters were not in vain. Many victories have since been won. Most recently, in December 2017, blacks and progressive whites voted their conviction of having congressional officials who are fair and just in their judgement for all people, including African Americans. They elected the prosecutor, Democrat Doug Jones of the Birmingham church bombing case, over his opponent, Republican Roy S. Moore, as senator for the state of Alabama. What a feat!

In 2008, Barack Obama was elected President of the United States, and then was elected for a second term because we actively voted for him and African Americans "committed" to the process. Because we didn't commit to the process and "passively" voted in the 2014 election for governor, Bruce Rauner was elected. Where has that gotten us?   

A unified and determined people can impact our government by exercising their right to vote. Cast your vote in the March during the Illinois gubernatorial primary because your vote carries power whether you exercise that power or not.

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