Most people have no idea how powerful voting actually is.
I know because I have spent the last two years helping Virginians register to vote and utilize this opportunity we have to make our values a reality in our communities.
I have the honorable but arduous task of convincing people who feel betrayed, silenced and ignored by those in power that there is still opportunity for change if they vote.
For some people, issues like gerrymandering and dishonorable voter suppression tactics make it all too easy to throw in the towel.
However, I see every single election as another chance to get it right and I find hope in that. I have watched my votes turn into Medicaid for my neighbor and mother, better sheriffs and school board members, a legislature more representative of what the people want. When I celebrate these victories for all Virginians, I always think to myself, “What if I had given up? What if I had stayed home?”
This National Voter Registration Day, it’s worth celebrating that freedom and understanding how we can aspire to more here in Virginia.
Recently, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission traveled across the country to examine the state of minority voting rights access since the Supreme Court removed major protections of the Voting Rights Act in the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision.
Their alarming report found that minorities have been increasingly excluded from elections.
Whether it’s because polling places get shut down in black and brown communities, election officials decide to cut early voting or because people are removed from the voter rolls in so-called “voter purges,” there have been far too many cynical attempts to make our democracy work for the few and ignore the many.
But that just adds fuel to my fire for participation, and I see it doing the same for so many voters. It’s time for some voices to not only be heard, but amplified.
Take, for example, the 70,000 formerly incarcerated Virginians who have regained their constitutional right to vote since 2016.
They aren’t just a number to me: I know their names, their faces and their stories. I have listened to many, with a glimmer of hope in their eyes, recall their first time casting their ballot.
The very act gave them hope that even in troubling times, change is still possible. My dear friend Christopher Green has voted in every election since his rights were restored in 2016. If you ask him what he votes for he says “the future.” He hits the streets day in and day out, building our communities, registering voters, lobbying lawmakers and encouraging our young people to make good choices.
We must work to fulfill the promise of free and fair elections that we’re supposed to have in this democracy. And that’s why I’m still motivated to vote. Let the changes we seek and the communities we love motivate us to not only show up on Election Day, but every day, by holding our elected officials accountable, staying educated on important issues and always encouraging our family and friends to keep fighting, even when we start to lose hope.
Here in Virginia, today a day for optimism and commitment to a better future. Let this be a reminder to check our voter registration status at www.registerva.org, think about a plan to vote, and challenge our friends and families to do the same.
As for me, I’ll be in Richmond with New Virginia Majority encouraging my community members to never lose hope in our democracy.
Editor’s note: The views of our opinion contributors are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Virginia Mercury.