The late John Lewis described voting as “the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democratic society.”
The civil rights leader and congressman did more than speak those words — he bled for them and lived his life for them. His years of service were a testament to the power of each individual to effect change in government.
Each of us has that power and more importantly — each of us has that right. In this country, we are not subjects. We are citizens. We choose leaders, not rulers, and we hold those leaders accountable at the ballot box. In this election and in every election, we have the chance to do just that.
History tells us, however, that far too many of us will ignore the sacred right to vote.
Millions will simply decide not to show up. A disappointingly large number of these non-voters count themselves among the incredibly diverse Millennial and Gen Z voter bloc that is poised to overtake Baby Boomers in power at the polls.
For these Americans and others, far too many obstacles lie in the path to the election booth. Voter suppression efforts are sadly alive and well, disproportionately impacting urban areas and communities of color. Voters are routinely purged from the polls without reason. Polling places are strategically placed to create 10-hour lines in one precinct while voters wait 15 minutes in a precinct two miles away. Voters must coordinate with work and childcare, and for many it simply becomes an impossible task.
Less obvious, but just as insidious, is the suppressive effect of pessimism.
We are bombarded with messaging questioning the value of our vote: Will it matter? Will it make an impact? Is our system so flawed, are our choices so imperfect, as to make our one vote a waste of time?
As two of the oldest and most storied civil rights organizations in our nation, the Anti-Defamation League and the Urban League are standing together to fight against voter suppression and promote voter education and engagement in Philadelphia. The “Our Time, Our Vote” initiative is working to inspire Philadelphians to use their power and their voice on November 3.
Our message to young Americans is simple: Your vote is incredibly powerful.
Why else would so much effort be put into suppressing it? Your vote is your voice — your contribution to a national discussion. It is your chance to actually do something about the critical challenges facing our nation.
We are mired in an economic crisis that disproportionately harms marginalized communities. Millions of Americans are struggling to feed their families, facing eviction or foreclosure, and looking for work. If you want an economic recovery that embodies justice and equity for all Americans, your vote is your voice.
Every stage of our criminal justice system disproportionately affects communities of color, from policing to the courts to incarceration. If you are outraged and heartbroken following yet another fatal shooting of a Black person at the hands of law enforcement this week, and want to reimagine what it means to invest in services and supports that help keep all in our city healthy and safe, your vote is your voice.
In Pennsylvania, our laws still do not provide comprehensive non-discrimination protections for members of the LGBTQ+ community, who can still lose their jobs or homes simply because of who they are or who they love. Wages are still limited by gender. Credit and real estate values are still impacted by racial bias and discrimination. If you believe that we must do better because all people are created equal, your vote is your voice.
Your vote is your voice, but it is so much more than that. Your vote is your power, your authority as a citizen not just to choose our leaders, but to hold them accountable, to choose a government that promises us a better future and then demand that they deliver on those promises. Apathy has dire consequences. We cannot delegate decision-making to our neighbors and then grumble about the outcome of their choices.
Never think for a moment that your vote won’t matter.
Never think for a moment that your voice is small.
Your vote is an exercise of political power. Your voice is a moral contribution to the world we live in. Decisions will be made by those who show up. So make a plan to vote. Get informed about who and what is on your ballot. Show up. Use your voice.
Jill Fertel is a lawyer and serves on the Advocacy Committee of the ADL (Anti-Defamation League) Philadelphia Associate Board.