I often hear people tell others especially young people of color and women that they should vote because “someone died so that could have the right to vote.” While I completely understand the sentiment and one of the many reasons why I vote is because of the sacrifice of my elders and ancestors. “Historical obligation” should not be the tactic used to engage young voters.
I actually believe the historical obligation narrative is more of a deterrent than an incentive because historically voting has not helped poor or black communities. Example, my maternal grandmother lives in North Memphis. She has lived in the same community for over fifty years. Every election day she walks to the local community center around the corner from her home and votes. Her demographic, African American women over the age of 70 are the largest voting block in America. However, her neighborhood has rapidly declined over the years. What once was a beautiful working-class neighborhood with a neighborhood association and a very competitive yard of the month contest, is now a blighted, crime-riddled, ghost land.
To a young person that has NOT seen the democratic process protect their communities or assist in maintaining their schools or maintain safe communities, the “somebody died” argument is a waste of time. Young people like myself constantly wrestle with the philosophical reality that those folks may have died in vain and not because we decide not to exercise our vote but because even when we exercise our vote the lives of our people are not benefited.
Those young people require a deeper level of understanding and communication than the historical obligation tactic has to offer. This next generation is smart and intuitive. We must have real conversations that are more than surface level about the benefits of democracy and
how to make democracy work for us.
To that young person that struggles with voter apathy, I see you. I feel you. I understand you. I have been there. I am there. But I decide every election not to stay there. I decide every election to seek out one really good, qualified, and passionate candidate and help get them in office. I decided to educate myself about local politics and what the elected officials are supposed to be doing in my community. I also decide to advocate for the causes that I believe in and hold elected officials accountable.
You see, someone did indeed die for my right to vote but that was not the basis for their sacrifice. They died so that I would have access to democracy fully. They died so that my government would reflect the interest and the needs of my people. They gave their lives so that my life would be better and that means so much for than casting an uninformed vote.
This democracy thing in America at its inception was an experiment and as a country, we will continue to redefine representative democracy.
To all those feeling a little apathetic, I challenge you to put your philosophical feelings aside for one day and go vote. After that, I would personally love to engage an intellectual game of chess about politics and community.