I remember the first time I voted. The year was 1972, and thanks to The Twenty-sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, 18 year olds were granted the right to vote (July 1, 1971), and it was the quickest amendment ever to be ratified. I remember the national debates over lowering the voting age because it focused on all our friends being drafted to fight in Vietnam when they had absolutely no say about the war, who was sending them, and why. Having participated in the anti-war movement with hundreds of thousands of other young students across the country, I’d like to think our protests made a difference and forced the government to lower the voting age. So, when the time came in 1972 to vote in the presidential election, I cast my ballot for George McGovern.
Shortly before the election, McGovern came to the University of Cincinnati where I was studying. After his campaign speech, he thanked all the volunteers back stage, and I was thrilled to shake the hand of the next President of the United States of America. I just knew he would win. And, trust me, to this day, I still can’t believe that Nixon won (by a landslide) despite the fact that 52% of 18-24 year-olds showed up at the polls, the highest ever voter turnout of young adults including the 2008 Obama-McCain election.
So, I write this post the day before the elections as a reminder that anything can happen, and every vote matters. Here in North Carolina, we have a very important Senate race. I know who I’ll be voting for? You?
It’s the 4th of July! A big holiday, with most people not working, with lots of us going on picnics, parties, and maybe even going to watch some fireworks tonight: Awesome!!! Woo-hoo!!! Which is all good. But in case you want to know why we as a country celebrate the 4th of July, take a moment to read the following quote from one of our founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, to realize what we are REALLY celebrating. Or should I say, what we should be celebrating. It all became effective 238 years ago today. And it almost seems as if it is time for some new form of government, or at least that is how I feel after reading the compelling quote below. Do you have the same feeling too?
“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
~Thomas Jefferson, The Declaration of Independence
As I sat down to my computer this morning, I was going to write about a disturbing film I saw the other night but then, I realized it was MLK Day, and the film idea seemed trivial. So, instead, I sat back and tried to remember where I was on that Thursday, April 4th, 1968 when I heard the news Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. So, when it happened, I saw it all, sitting in my living room with my family watching it on the evening news, in black and white, as reported by Walter Cronkite on CBS. LBJ was our President and he came on TV to tell us how sad it all was for America. My parents agreed, and so did I.
Even though I was only 15 years old, I remember a lot about what happened that day, and even that decade. After all, I was ten years old when my President, John F. Kennedy, was assassinated in 1963, and I would never forget that. And who could ever forget MLK when he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech in front of hundreds of thousands of people in 1963 at the March on Washington? And, there was music, amazing performances that day with Josephine Baker, Mahalia Jackson, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. My father was a huge fan of Mahalia Jackson.
Needless to say, growing up in Cleveland, I was aware of all the turmoil and violence of the 60’s. In between the March on Washington, and the assassination of MLK, we had race riots in the inner city during the summer of 1966, and once again, I remember watching it all on the evening news. And it was violent. The Governor called out the National Guard, and it looked like the city was burning down and people were getting killed and many more injured. The violence seemed so close, yet so wrong according to everything I heard MLK preach.
And then, more violence, and I’m not even talking about all the disturbing images I saw on TV of people getting killed in Viet Nam. I’m talking about what happened three months after MLK was gunned down, another assassin shot and killed Bobby Kennedy, (we all called him, Bobby) and once again, we sat around in our living room witnessing that murder.
As the 60s ended, and I began thinking about college, I informed my parents I wanted to go where all the action was – UCLA or Berkeley. “Are you crazy?” They absolutely refused to contribute a dime to either of those schools. We have fine schools in Ohio, and Kent State is so close. Seriously, I thought? It’s practically in my backyard. I rejected it. And then, on a warm spring day in May, I remember my friend, Terry, who was at Kent State, came running into our school telling everyone they were shooting students on campus. He was agitated. Our teacher yelled at him and told him to leave but he wouldn’t. He couldn’t be telling the truth. After all, why would anyone want to kill students? Terry’s account of what happened was confirmed that night on the evening news. Four Dead in Ohio. The National Guard fired 67 rounds over a period of 13 seconds, killing four students and wounding nine others. And so began a new decade.
Today, when I think about MLK and all he stood for, I am grateful for his legacy of non-violence. Progress has been made in civil rights and in human rights, but we are not finished yet.