Taking Back our Voting Rights
Posted on January 02, 2012 by Amanda Beals
Last month, Attorney General Eric Holder gave a speech at the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library and Museum in Texas stating the White House’s commitment to protect the civil rights and voting rights of all Americans. In an interview, Holder stated, ““We are a better nation now than we were because more people are involved in the electoral process. The beauty of this nation, the strength of this nation, is its diversity, and when we try to exclude people from being involved in the process . . .we weaken the fabric of this country.’’
These are very powerful words coming from Attorney General Holder. The United States is, and has always been, made up of a very large population of diverse people with diverse needs. At the founding of our country, with voting rights and civil rights relegated to only a small part of the population, many groups were forced to live in conditions that were not ideal. With the following Civil Rights Movement and Disability Rights Movement, we have been able to chip away at those injustices our ancestors were forced to live with and tear down the barriers that have kept us from living an independent, fulfilling life.
Right now, the focus seems to be on new Election Laws and whether or not political players are sacrificing our rights for their gain. I think an even bigger concern should be on how we have been sabotaging our own rights and our own voices each election year. While some new laws have been labeled as “excluding people from being involved in the process” an even bigger problem within our disability community is how we exclude ourselves from making a difference during election years.
Ten years ago, people with disabilities were voting at levels that were much lower than the general population. This means we had less power and influence over the policies that affected our lives every day…access to transportation, affordable healthcare, education, even access to public buildings. Since then, we have seen a great increase in political participation from the disability community followed by major gains in disability policies and a better, more inclusive society for everyone. As much progress has been made, you will undoubtedly agree there is still a lot of work left to be done. Yet, as I talk to people with disabilities across the state, I still hear the self-defeating statements and attempts to exclude ourselves that have been heard for such a long time. “Voting doesn’t matter anyway” “People in Jefferson City are going to do what they want anyway, voting won’t change that.” Participation in Primary elections is extremely low, especially for people in the disability community. No Voter ID or Election Law changes can have any effect on us if we continue to be the biggest enemies to our own civil rights.
As we start out this new election year, I ask that all of you make a commitment to protect your rights and your voices during the election cycle. Register and Vote during each election. Make sure the issues that you deal with every day are the issues that policy makers are talking about and working on throughout the year. The first way you can do that is to register and vote in the Presidential Primary, February 7, 2012. The Voter Registration Deadline is next week, January 11. There is still time to register and ensure that your voice will be heard throughout the election year.