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A Deeply Moral Act
Voting is a decisive statement of Christian faith that I matter, justice matters, and others matter.
Low voter turnout is generally a sign of a demoralized society, and people of power feed on that demoralization, knowing that they can then easily gerrymander, suppress and limit voting rights, and give elections to the rule of money and lobbyists—and there will be little outcry, because there is so little trust or even interest in the whole system anyway.
Yet this is largely where the U.S. is today.
The powers that control society are quite happy that it is always minorities of all stripes that first feel this powerlessness and this demoralization. Since the early days of representative government, it has been believed that democracy would only work if there was a truly free and informed citizenry. We presently seem to lack both in the U.S. This is why voting is a deeply moral act for me—in rebuilding confidence and encouraging an intelligent and hope-filled society. It is also a decisive act of Christian faith that I matter, society matters, justice matters, and others matter.
Not to vote is to hand our power and our dignity over to people who fear actual freedom, honest intelligence, and faith in the very goodness of humanity.
A Precious and Hard-Gained Right
For Asian Americans, access to voting was slow in coming.
As an Asian American, I cannot ignore how white Americans treated my forebears in their early days in this country. Asian Americans built the railroads, and many lost their lives in that effort. They worked in harsh conditions in the Hawaiian sugar cane industry and in gold and silver mining. Many worked and died as indentured workers who couldn’t marry or move around without permission, and who never made enough money to return to their country of origin if they so desired.
Living in harsh conditions, Asian Americans had little power to challenge their exploitation and oppression. In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which prevented Chinese people from entering the U.S. It was the country’s first ban of any ethnic group. The Chinese people who were already in the U.S. had to carry papers and prove their residency if stopped by police. The ban was supposed to last only 10 years, but it remained in effect until 1943, when Chinese immigrants were finally allowed to vote—nearly 100 years after Asian Americans began migrating to the U.S. Voting rights for those from India and other Asian nations soon followed.
Until they were granted the right to vote, these immigrant communities were limited in their ability to fight for their labor rights in the fields, in the mines, and on the railroads. They could not run for office and were unable to impact U.S. politics. We need to remember the lapses in order to emphasize the country’s stated ideals—and call the nation to live into them fully.
Today, citizens of all ethnicities have the right to vote. We cannot take this for granted. We have the power to vote—the power to make a difference. We can’t forget how precious that is.
**For the rest of the article, please read Sojourners Magazine Nov 2018 issue.
Richard Rohr, OFM, founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation (cac.org), lives in Albuquerque, N.M., and is a Sojourners contributing editor.
Myrna Pérez is deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.
Mustafo Santiago Ali is senior vice president of climate, environmental justice, and community revitalization at the Hip Hop Caucus.
Randy Woodley is distinguished professor of faith and culture and director of intercultural and Indigenous studies at Portland (Ore.) Seminary of George Fox University and author of Shalom and the Community of Creation: An Indigenous Vision.
Grace Ji-Sun Kim (@Gracejisunkim) is an associate professor of theology at Earlham School of Religion. She is the author of 13 books, including Mother Daughter Speak: Lessons on Life and Embracing the Other: The Transformative Spirit of Love.
Sister Norma Pimentel is the Executive Director for Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley.
Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner is President of Skinner Leadership Institute, Co-Convener, National African American Clergy Network, and author of I Prayed, Now What?