Without exercising one collective voice, we are unable to influence policies and laws that impact our lives.
-Ella Jo Baker
Access to basic human rights is the lesser of the two evils. But what happens when you don’t exercise those basic rights? Consequently, you forfeit the privilege to participate in the conversation.
Ella Josephine Baker (December 13, 1903 – December 13, 1986) is known for her behind-the-scenes contributions to the Civil Rights Movement. Her efforts to organize voter registration drives and raise educational awareness were significant in the 1958 and 1960 elections. With a career as a civil and human rights activist that spanned five decades, Baker strongly believed “voting was key to freedom.”
In 1957, Baker organized the first major campaign for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) called the Crusade for Citizenship. Launched after the undecided Civil Rights Act lay pending in Congress, the objective for the crusade was to register thousands of disenfranchised voters in time for the elections. The crusade sought to establish voter education clinics throughout the South, raise awareness among African Americans that ‘‘their chances for improvement rest on their ability to vote,’’ and stir the nation’s conscience to change the current conditions.
Hmm… sound familiar? Impromptu voter registration and education centers pop up every election season in front of college campuses and local supermarkets to ensure the disenfranchised voters – specifically youth, people of color, and people in the criminal justice system – have the opportunity to register on the spot.
Yet, even with voter access and convenience, in 2010, non-Latino Whites voted at a higher rate (49 percent), than both Blacks (43 percent) and Latinos (31 percent). Meanwhile, the gaps between those who do not register to vote are at a higher rate in both Blacks and Latino communities. How can we impact these margins? In what ways can we increase participation among registered voters? Simple. Engage them.
People who don’t vote often say they feel disconnected with politicians. Political speech often alienates voters despite the relevance of the issues being debated. While pop-up voter registration centers increase registration numbers of eligible voters, to be sure votes are cast on election day registration must also reinforce this right by:
- demonstrating the value of one vote and,
- discussing the issues and candidates in a ways that are less overwhelming
Baker’s legacy still lives on with the work of the Ella Baker Center of Human Rights, which continues to speak out for justice, build a green economy, empower voters, build community and invest in young leaders. Here are three other organizations that work to empower and engage voters:
- FairVote – This nonpartisan organization works as a catalyst for reforming elections to respect every vote and every voice through bold approaches to increase voter turnout, meaningful ballot choices and fair representation.
- The League of Women Voters – The League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan citizens’ organization that has fought since 1920 to improve government and engage all citizens in the decisions that impact their lives. The League operates at national, state and local levels through more than 800 state and local Leagues, in all 50 states as well in DC, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Hong Kong.
- Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted Peoples Movement– The Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted Peoples Movement adopted a national commitment to register a million new voters from among people with prior convictions or a history of incarceration.
Our fundamental right to vote has to be instilled at the core in order for someone to be empowered by this basic human right. The work still continues, and you can do your part to encourage others.
by Courtney Locus