Edmund Pettus Bridge Crossing
March 4, 2012 Administrator Jackson and community leaders complete the crossing of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. (Credit: US EPA photo by Eric Vance) U.S. Government Works

Voting is more popular than ever, yet I have never seen the United States of America so divisive. This is a shocking realization considering I was born in 1960 in the midst of the civil rights movement, the rise of hippies, free love and decades of Reaganomics that followed.

History of Voting and Civil Rights

In the 1960s, segregation was normalized and legally sanctioned in some states. Interracial marriage was banned until 1967 when the Supreme Court struck down state laws after a landmark decision in Loving v Virginia. Many believed that a black man had no rights that a white man took for granted. In the infamous Dred Scott vs Sanford case of 1857, Supreme Court Justice Roger Brooke Taney ruled that African Americans were inferior, had no rights as citizens. Many states held onto that belief system for more than a century. Today, many people still believe this way.

In 1964, the Civil Rights Act abolished discrimination based on race, religion, ethnicity or gender. Still, this did not deter the opposition. They would use every subversive tactic to suppress nonwhite voters. They implement obstacles from a poll tax to competency tests. White Americans did not want people of color to vote.  Citizens of African, Mexican, and Asian Americans were turned away from registering.

This was a dark era in our nation’s history.

Some Understand the Value of the Vote 

The turning point came in 1965 will the passage of the Voting Rights Act. A peaceful march from Selma across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Alabama touched off what would be a great tragedy in the civil rights movement. Bloody Sunday, as it’s referred to, saw many protesters attacked. Most were African American.

Sheriff Joe Clark, his deputies and posse members used attack dogs, fire hoses, clubs and other weapons on the protesters. Many were beaten. Some of the activists died paying the ultimate price in order for minorities to gain the right to vote without interference.

Now, it is just my humble opinion, but for anyone not to exercise this right to vote after this sacrifice is doing more harm than the damage done on that bridge.

Voting Protects Minorities

In Maricopa County, Arizona, voters rid their community of Joe Arpaio. This is the power of the ballot box. In my opinion, and the opinion of many others, Sheriff Joe is a bigot. He used the office to target Hispanics and to discriminate, profile and detain them. Arpaio continued despite a court order prohibiting such practices. Notwithstanding, his department botched some 400 rape cases that resulted in millions to settle.

Today, just like Sheriff Clark in Alabama and Sheriff Joe in Arizona, it took the people to rise up as a community and say, “No” — we will not have an elected official suppress us. It took the vote to remove that stain from the county. Just as it took the vote to place members in Congress to enact the civil rights legislation. Most importantly, it will be the vote to bring sanity and credibility back to our nation.

I choose to vote. I let my voice count and join in collectively to say NO, we are not a country that suppresses the rights of our citizens. When we all have a voice, only then will democracy work.

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Gene Smith

Gene Smith is a Chief Campaign Strategist living in Arizona. He is a Juris Doctor, Democratic Campaign Strategist, Elected Precinct Committee person, and Democratic State Committee Member. Currently, Gene serves on the Environmental Caucus.

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