Child Watch Column

Every Vote Matters: Make Your Voice Heard

By Marian Wright Edelman

Founder and President Emerita

“The vote is the most powerful, non-violent tool we have in a democratic society.” – John Lewis

Last December in Alabama, where Representative John Lewis was born to sharecroppers and later faced down the enforcers of Jim Crow on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, a wave of voters rose to defeat a shameless bigot in favor of a defender of civil rights, representing a new direction for leadership in the state. The result, decided by a mere 309 votes per county, provides a powerful reminder to citizens across the country: Every vote matters.

Only days later, in Virginia, control of the state’s House of Delegates came down to a tie in the state’s 94th District; a single extra vote would have been decisive. And just five presidential elections ago, a 537 vote difference in Florida determined the fate of our country to start the century.

With each vote we must speak for America’s children, so many of whom suffer in poverty and hunger without a voice in our governance. In this crucial moment, as our elected officials try to turn back the clock on progress for children, every ballot cast is an act of righteous defiance against—or complicity in—the moral pillaging of America. In every state and at every level of government, we must stand and be counted. The future of our children and our country depends on it.

And though our highest moral duty is to children, we also owe a duty to the heroes of our past—to those who sacrificed their blood, liberty and lives in the long struggle that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. In the half century since, their struggle has changed form but it has not ended.

Today, the power of the vote is confirmed by the urgency of those who seek to take it away. Instead of expanding access, legislatures across the country are disenfranchising Americans by passing voter identification laws, shrinking absentee and early voting programs and disenfranchising felons who have paid their debt to society.

We must not be deterred. Staying home is an abandonment of our civic responsibility to do our homework and make our voices heard in favor of a just playing field for every child. The path toward ensuring every child a healthy, fair and safe start and a successful transition to adulthood begins in the voting booth.

This year, the choices we face in the upcoming elections could not be starker. Choose candidates who will bring us together as Americans and who will prioritize the needs of children above self-interest.

Remember the words of John Lewis: “We must not allow the power of the vote to be neutralized. We must never go back.”

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