As we enter into the home stretch of another election season, many pundits have been asking whether a lack of “enthusiasm” might keep some voters home. Questions about which voters are most “motivated” and “excited” seem to come up every election cycle. But any voter who isn’t enthusiastic about the ability to place a vote and have a say in these midterm elections for local, state, and national leaders is shirking their responsibility and wasting a huge opportunity others have struggled and died for. Those of us who participated in and lived through the Civil Rights Movement know firsthand that the right to vote is something Black Americans were fighting and dying for not very long ago. Many of them could not have imagined—as Robert Kennedy correctly predicted—that within a generation we would have our first Black president. One hundred years ago American women were still marching and fighting for equal voting rights that hadn’t yet been guaranteed in the Nineteenth Amendment. In places around the world others are still struggling and sacrificing for a freedom too many Americans now take for granted.
We have a responsibility to those who could not vote and those who still can’t—including children—to make our own votes count. As I told my sons in what became The Measure of Our Success: A Letter to My Children and Yours: use your political power for others less fortunate. Vote and hold those you vote for accountable. We get the political leaders we deserve. America’s children and future are too important to leave to politicians elected by just a few of the loudest mouths backed by the powerful interests, who do not have to reveal their names, who seek to turn the clock of racial and social progress backwards. Any American who cannot bother to vote and who thinks that a single vote does not matter is letting America down and letting millions of children down. In a democratic society, if we like or don’t like what our political leaders are doing, we must make that clear through our voices and our votes. But we cannot accomplish that by staying home.
In this election season amidst continuing economic downturn, children face an emergency. Fifteen and a half million children are poor—more than one in five of all children, more than one in three Black and one in three Hispanic children. The increase in child poverty between 2008 and 2009 was the largest of any age group and the greatest single year increase for children since the 1960s. There is no more urgent need for our nation’s leaders than to stop the rise in child poverty and suffering and eliminate and alleviate right now its harmful short and long term effects. The catastrophic BP oil spill’s assault on our environment was an urgent national emergency but so is the catastrophic impact of this recession and the chronic suffering of millions of children left adrift in a sea of hunger and homelessness, failing schools, political neglect, and budget cuts. We must declare a national child emergency and demand that our leaders do no harm, indeed stand up and vote to invest in the basic human needs of all of our children to shelter, food, quality education, and safety.
It is critical that Members of Congress vote against extension of the profligate tax cut for the top two percent of wealthiest Americans and for extending tax cuts to the 98 percent of Americans who warrant help. Our future prosperity rests on our courage to step forward and close the gaping and growing gap between the very richest few in America and the rest of America, especially our struggling children. Now is a time when America can and must turn economic downturn into an opportunity to correct the gross imbalance of government subsidization of the wealthiest and most powerful among us and provide a strong safety net for all children. All our leaders in both parties need to respond to children’s needs. But they will not unless they hear from you through your voices and votes.
As candidates line up to ask for your support in the final few days, demand that they commit to protecting babies as much as bankers and investing in children as generously as corporations. Get out to vote on or before November 2nd to give children the help they need. If you don’t vote for and protect children who will?
I have said repeatedly: People who don’t vote have no line of credit with people who are elected and thus pose no threat to those who act against our interests. Children can’t vote. But you can and must.