Voting is a Revolutionary Obligation

by Bruce R. Hare

African Americans, Asian Americans, Latino Americans, Native Americans and other “people of color” should vote because we are disproportionately poor and thus more negatively affected by the issues raised below. We suffer racism and discrimination in education, employment and incarceration, etc. — more than the so-called “white majority.” Our children are more likely poor and vulnerable to joining the “voluntary military,” risking their lives in the hope of a military career or earning money for college.

Idealism and Inequality
When this nation was established in 1776 two profound and contradictory things happened. First, one of the most progressive documents in human history, the Constitution of the United States of America, was written. It is an idealistic declaration claiming all men to be equal. Secondly, it set the stage for the ongoing struggle to close the distance between the equality promised and the inequality that continues to plague our nation. The contradiction between the ideal and the real was established at the same moment as the Constitution when these Revolutionary leaders simultaneously decided that only white male land owners (“landed gentry”) could vote. No poor white man could vote. No woman could vote. And, amazingly, these elite men who liberated themselves from British rule retained their African slaves who also could not vote. While the right to vote became a revolutionary prize, who could vote was immediately and intentionally restricted.

Thus voting in the US had to become a revolutionary act expanded by struggle. Those who did not own land, women and former slaves have had to fight to acquire this right. Poll taxes had to be fought and a Constitutional amendment passed so that women could vote. People have been beaten, maced and killed seeking the right to vote. The road to voting rights is paved with the blood, sweat and tears of our ancestors. In my view, because of the sacrifices made by those who have delivered this right to us, voting is not just a right and privilege, it is a duty and obligation.

A Fork in the Road
Voting in this presidential election is especially important because people are dying and we are at a fork in the road of this country’s future. Over 1,100 of our soldiers have died and over 10,000 have been injured with no end in sight. George W. Bush launched an unnecessary “pre-emptive war” on grounds that have proven not to be true. There were no weapon of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq. It appears that Mr. Bush’s determination to attack Iraq is best understood by remembering that Saddam “tried to kill my father,” as Mr. Bush repeatedly said before his advisors stopped him from singing this song. His father is alive and well while other people’s children are dying for what seems his personal vendetta.

Mr. Bush’s tax, wage, health care and education policies favor the rich. Tuition is up, unemployment is up and wages are down. Medical costs are going through the roof, purchasing safe and cheaper drugs from Canada is forbidden. Inequality is increasing: the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. The cost of oil has exceeded $54/barrel resulting in rising rents and gasoline prices that will drive marginally middle class people to the poor house.

On the question of this war, ask yourself: “are you safer than you were four years ago,” and “are you prepared to lose your daughter or son chasing the wrong people?”

Bait and Switch
Having allowed Osama bin Laden to escape, Mr. Bush has engaged in a classic “bait and switch” and given us Saddam Hussein. Iraq was not involved in the bombing of the twin towers. In fact 16 of the hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. Curiously, this administration is still in alliance with this unjust monarchy. Mr. Bush continuously “pimps” on 9/11 and uses fear mongering for political advantage. The Patriot Act reduces our rights and the varying levels of alert have created paranoid citizens.

In my opinion this is the most important election in my lifetime. It is also too critically close to waste a symbolic vote on Ralph Nader. It would ultimately be a vote for Mr. Bush.

Failure to vote would be an act of delinquency because the future of our nation is at risk. If you don’t vote, you may not only get what you deserve you will also lose your right to complain. It would be especially delinquent of African Americans, other people of color, and other traditionally oppressed people not to exercise this blood-won right, privilege and duty to vote.

Bruce is Emeritus Professor of Sociology and African-American Studies at Syracuse University and adjunct professor of Social Science at Onondaga Community College.