With voting in the news, we at AWTT are prompted to recall the many people in our history who committed their lives to making this most basic democratic principle a reality.
Some of their stories are well-known: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lewis, Frederick Douglass, Fannie Lou Hamer, to name a few of the most familiar. As for women’s suffrage, most Americans have heard of Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Alice Paul. But there are also many other unsung heroes with interesting and inspiring stories.
Journalist Ida B. Wells championed may worthwhile causes, including universal suffrage. She was honored for her sacrifices to these causes with the installation of a mosaic in our nation’s capital. The mosaic’s artist, Helen Marshall, also honors “countless other women suffragists and activists who fought for the right to vote,” by embedding their images into the mosaic’s design.
White Southern activist, Ann Braden, is another little-known hero – among thousands – who lived the life her conscience required. The film Anne Braden: Southern Patriot (1924-2006) documents the personal sacrifices she made on behalf of the disenfranchised. Joan Baez described it as “[a] gem of a film, accented with freedom fighters who speak firsthand about carving a path through a traumatized, violent, racist South, to make way for one of the largest and most effective nonviolent movements for social change the world has ever seen.”
And, in our own time, regrettably, the fight to protect this most basic right of citizenship has intensified. Just last year, Rev. William Barber II was arrested while advocating for voting rights in our nation’s capitol. Again, one among many who are fighting every day to protect this basic right for all.
So what are living AWTT portrait subjects saying about the 2022 mid-term elections?
Activist Alicia Garza has an interesting message for the Democratic leadership in this video – calling them out for missing the mark on activating Black voters and what they should be doing to change this. And, for the first time in recent memory, long-time third party candidate Ralph Nader is urging progressives to vote for Democrats. He calls this “the most dangerous political movement since the Civil War.”
Rev. Lennox Yearwood and the Hip Hop Caucus continue their innovative voter registration campaign. One facet of this year’s effort is a cross-country “Votercade,” running from Minneapolis to Florida. The campaign is co-sponsored by a coalition of organizations, including the Hip Hop caucus.
The U.S. Supreme Court abortion decision in Dobbs has become a big issue in this election. How important is this issue to voters? Depends on who you ask. Cecile Richards – in an all-out effort to highlight this issue for women voters – takes issue with those who say that it’s not a priority for voters. “. . . even though [Supermajority’s] polling suggests women are not single-issue voters, the group has seen a surge in volunteer sign-ups and there are indications of an increase in voter registration in some states.” See ABC story here. (Anyone interested in this issue can easily find interviews with Richards; she’s in the midst of a full-on media blitz.)
And then there’s Bill McKibben and Third Act – also engaged in an all-out get-out-the-vote campaign – “to save our planet and to save our democracy.”
Although this is only a small sampling of individuals who dedicate extra-ordinary amounts of their time and energy to the democratic exercise we call voting, we hope that you are inspired by at least some of them. Perhaps this year more than ever, the future of the democratic experiment we call the United State of America depends on voter participation. As the students of Dr. Weeks Elementary School in Syracuse told artist Robert Shetterly this week, good citizens are kind, they care for people; they show respect for others. The students seemed most concerned with creating loving and cohesive communities. Voting is another simple but powerful way to advance the values of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all.