Voters: the essential element of democracy
Melvin B. Miller | 4/19/2017, 11 a.m.
The struggle for equal rights for African Americans is a never-ending battle. There always seems to be an impediment from those who, even subconsciously, harbor views of white superiority. The most reliable and easily perceived expression of black power is a solid voter turnout. MassVOTE is committed to assuring a strong turnout in every election.
Unfortunately, the importance of a solid vote is not always so clearly understood by blacks. During the Jim Crow era, blacks in the South were denied access to white drinking fountains, public schools, and swimming pools and restaurants. Most of those denials could be described as petty discrimination, but keeping blacks from the polls was deadly serious.
Those in power fully understood the threat to their status of an enlightened and active black electorate. As battle fatigue set in for blacks, especially in places where the threat from whites had diminished, sometime the urgency of voting suffered. One of the major tasks of MassVOTE is to revive and maintain an interest in voting, not only among blacks but among youth and others in Massachusetts.
Presidential elections provide a good opportunity to assess political clout by race or ethnicity. In Barack Obama’s reelection in 2012, the black turnout in Massachusetts was 66 percent, compared with 64 percent for whites, 48 percent for Hispanics and 47 percent for Asians. Having Obama at the top of the ticket induced a strong black turnout.
MassVOTE conducts a massive drive to generate political participation among many who might otherwise have limited interest. Their field work in 2016 included 59,265 phone calls as well as knocking on 49,955 doors. This effort is necessary to create concern about elections among youth and families with modest income. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau revealed that in 2014, 55 percent of the voters were 60 years old or older, and only 16 percent of those 18-29 showed up at the polls. Also, 77 percent of the voters in 2012 had household incomes of more than $75,600.
At no time in recent memory have the principles of democracy that are the nation’s foundation been more threatened. It is critical for citizens to provide the volunteers and financial resources to enable MassVOTE to accelerate its efforts.