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Voting: A Petition To Save

Dismantling the “white imagination” of what it means to be an American citizen, Claudia Rankine bridges visual aesthetic and contextual prose to expose areas of trauma. Rankine underlines the individualism assumed when internalizing societal commentary:

“Slipping down burying the you buried within. You are

everywhere and you are nowhere in the day.

The outside comes in—

Then you, hey you—

Overheard in the moonlight.

Overcome in the moonlight.

Soon you are sitting around, publicly listening, when you

hear this—what happens to you doesn’t belong to you,

only half concerns you.

…the world out there insisting on this only half concerns

you. What happens to you doesn’t belong to you, only half

concerns you. It’s not yours. Not yours only.” [1]

I began my week with a heavy heart. The political climate is lit—and not in a good way. Many are on the fence and not in terms of which candidate to select, but whether or not they will vote. Even if you are registered, over the age of 18 and are of legal standing—there are many reasons to forfeit this responsibility. Yes, responsibility. This presidential election does not only half concern us, it concerns all of us. And everyone is feeling the pressure.

In an old-school classroom at Bedford Hills, an all-women correctional facility, I had a conversation with one of my classmates. She rubbed her forehead slowly and relayed her dismay with the presidential debates, "It's a political circus. You are going to vote, right?" I hesitated. Noticing my pause, she quickly followed," You see, you have to vote, because I can't. Your vote matters."

In a film newly released and directed by Ava DuVernay titled 13th, we are introduced to an alarming fact: 25% of Americans are incarcerated, and are stripped of their 13th amendment. Those who are criminalized are withheld from most rights, including the ability to vote. When considering this upcoming election season, in what appears to be a tight race, this fact is crucial. If 25% of Americans are behind bars, and other individuals who fall in the loophole cannot vote, each vote cast becomes that much more pivotal. Yes, each vote matters.

Michelle Alexander expands on this political disenfranchisement, which categorizes the Jim Crow era, “African Americans were denied the right to vote through poll taxes, literacy tests, grandfather clauses, and felon disenfranchisement laws, even though the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution specifically provides that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied…on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude.”

Devices were created to sustain a divide. These devices produced an avenue for a primarily “all-white electorate without violating terms in the Fifteenth amendment.” Alexander continues, “Because African-Americans were poor, they frequently could not pay poll taxes. And because they had been denied access to education, they could not pass literacy tests…Finally because blacks were disproportionately charged with felonies—in fact, some crimes were specifically designed as felonies with the goal of eliminating blacks from the electorate.” [2] This pattern continues today.

For the past few weeks Tucson, Arizona has been visited by social justice activists, seminaries, and faith-based organizations to protest the detention centers which are located at the borderlines of Mexico. The detention centers are occupied by Hispanic immigrants who are being held for trial before being deported. These centers are verbally and physically abusive with inhumane living quarters. Moreover, these individuals could have been born in America, but if their parents are not citizens, they lose all rights. Similar to the Grandfather clause of the Jim Crow era, they are only permitted legal rights if their ancestors [elders] were.

While attending an Islamic afternoon prayer service, Imam Khalid Latif reminded me of the importance of truly seeing another human in their integrity and own light, without relying on my own experiences. It is also a call to be fully present, aware. Recognizing that we can never completely understand anyone else’s journey, but we are more than capable of responding as concerned brothers and sisters. During the service, we sat in solidarity and listened to a powerful message that included dialogue about black lives mattering, the blatant disrespect of Muslims—especially in the presidential elections, and the global trauma that affects this community. Imam Latif’s message both empowered and provided an avenue to act. Voting is a part of this action.

If we are aware of the challenges and trauma of our sisters and brothers, our response is to be heard in arenas they cannot. Our vote is also our prayer. In the words of mystic Rabbi Abraham Heschel, “The primary purpose of prayer is not to make requests. The primary purpose is to praise, to sing, to chant. Because the essence of prayer is a song, and [Humanity] cannot live without a song. Prayer may not save us. But prayer may make us worthy of being saved.”

We pray with our feet. We pray with the power of our voice. We pray with our votes. The concern of this election is not yours only. It is our petition to save.

[1] Rankine, Claudia Citizen: An American Lyric, Graywolf Press, 2014, 141.
[2] Alexander, Michelle The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindess, The New Press, 2012, 192.

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