Today is National Voter Registration Day and it falls between two historic legislative anniversaries this year and next year that remind us how so many people struggled for the voting rights that too many fail to use now. You can either cast a ballot, or cast a shadow over our democracy by not voting at all this November.
Earlier this summer, we honored the 50th anniversary of the signing of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. It banned unequal application of voter registration requirements, and made it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin – putting an end to school and public facility discrimination.
In 2015, we will celebrate the half-century mark of the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965, which ended disgusting “poll taxes” in state and local elections, literacy tests, and allowed federal oversight to make sure states’ minority voters could vote with dignity and peace.
That legislation was compelled by the “Bloody Sunday” beatings earlier that year of peaceful African-American marchers crossing a bridge in Selma, Alabama, as part of a voter registration campaign.
In our civics classes across the state, California’s teachers discuss these and other watershed moments to inspire students to vote and help shape their communities and futures. And today, educators are talking about this national day of action as the Nov. 4 California general election looms and politics fill the headlines.
For your neighborhood public schools, it’s another vital election with ballot measures and candidates that will impact education funding, student learning environments, class sizes, and keeping our campuses on the right track.
The California Teachers Association is part of the National Education Association, which is a partner with the organizers of National Voter Registration Day, along with the League of Women Voters, YWCA, the “Voto Latino” and “Rock the Vote” engagement projects, and more than 2,000 community and civic groups in all 50 states.
The National Association of Secretaries of State proclaimed the fourth Tuesday of each September a day of civic action that will also include celebrities and businesses drawing attention to voter registration deadlines. Many ethnic communities are joining today’s events and distributing voting materials in many languages.
You can get the full story at www.NationalVoterRegistrationDay.org.
Whatever your political persuasion, you can’t make your voice matter unless you register to vote and cast ballots in local, state and national races. Nationally, ballots will be cast for 471 congressional seats, 36 governorships, for the seats of 46 state legislatures, and in thousands of local elections that will affect families and our communities, public schools, parks and much more.
Catch the spirit today and go inspire other Californians to register. The deadline to register to vote in our state is Oct. 20 for the Nov. 4 election. We’ll decide everything from our next governor to our next local school board member.
California even lets you register online.
Get complete California Secretary of State voter registration information at www.sos.ca.gov/
And once you do register, please vote! Join the civic conversation. Vote by mail, vote in your neighborhood polling place, but do take part. Strengthening our democracy depends on engaged citizens.
In California in the June primary election, only about 25 percent of registered voters cast ballots, a record low. Many more of our neighbors never bothered to register.
We can do better. We owe it to the marchers who crossed that bridge in Selma in 1965. We owe it to our children and to ourselves. And we owe it to the future of California.
As Martin Luther King Jr. once put it: “Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a president and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.”
Ed’s Note: Dean E. Vogel is president of the 325,000-member California Teachers Association.