Earlier this year, I, along with my parents and husband DeAndre, travelled to Alabama with the Faith and Politics Institute for Congressman John Lewis’ Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage. We visited civil rights monuments in Birmingham and Montgomery, Alabama, before heading to Selma to commemorate Bloody Sunday. As we reflected on the rights that were so bravely fought for on that Sunday decades ago, I found myself frustrated that voter suppression faced by voters in 1965 are present today, though the tactics have changed.
Today, voter suppression doesn’t show up as poll taxes or literacy tests, but there are strict voter ID laws and in the age of the internet, intentionally misleading information that circulated online leading up to election day to confuse or discourage the electorate from participating in elections.
Reflecting on the past and present facing me during our time in Alabama, I was overcome with gratitude to be in the presence of civil rights icons like Representative Lewis, and honored moreover to hear from today’s champions like NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s Sherrilyn Iffill.
During a fireside chat, the night before we visited Selma, Representative Lewis encouraged us to “be touched my the spirit of history.” That stuck with me. I felt equal parts overwhelmed and empowered — overwhelmed because of the gravity of knowing all that the marchers on Selma endured. The undeniable brutality and being beaten within an inch of some of their lives to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that was accomplished as a result of their sacrifices, leadership, and unwavering commitment to access to the ballot for all. How could I even begin to envision myself carrying that mantle?
Down the rabbit hole I went, questioning myself, am I doing enough? Am I giving my time and energy to what matters? Representative Lewis’ words came back to me, “…be touched by the spirit of history.” In short, no, I’m not doing enough. I need to do more.
I need to commit myself more deeply to my work. I need to commit myself more deeply as a citizen, and my role in helping the United States live up to its most ideal self — a place of liberty and justice for all. I need to commit myself more to being intentional about fighting for rights for all today, and for generations to come.
In my home state of Michigan, I work with the Promote the Vote coalition to make voting more accessible, secure, and fair for all Michiganders. Earlier this year, we, along with the NAACP and League of Women Voters, launched the Promote the Vote, a ballot measure campaign that would secure the right to vote for all eligible voters in Michigan. This initiative would amend the state constitution to allow voters to register at any time — up to and including on Election Day; automatically register voters; require post-election audits; expand access to absentee ballots; allow for straight-ticket party voting; and ensure those in the military get their ballots with enough time to vote. Our goal is to put the amendment on the ballot this November.
All these updates would make voting more of a sure thing in Michigan, guaranteeing a fair and accessible process. Following in the footsteps of civil rights leaders, we’re continuing their work today. We want every eligible person who can vote to vote, and we want to ensure that every vote will count.
I have four siblings, with the youngest being a little sister and brother that I adore. I hope one day when they’re older, they will look back and be proud of me. I hope they know how important their lives and right to just be is to me, by the evidence of the effort I give to ensuring a better tomorrow for them and the future of our family, my community and world more broadly.