By MARY HERR
Decisions made at all levels of government (President and Congress in Washington, DC, General Assembly in Raleigh and County Commissioners, Sheriffs, Courts, etc.) impact the daily lives of Cherokee people. If you shop anywhere off the Boundary, you are paying state sales taxes. These amounts are determined by the county and state. If you are arrested off the Qualla Boundary, state laws apply and you will appear before a District Court or Superior Court judge who is elected.
All federal laws passed by the U.S. Congress directly impact Cherokee people. Congress determines the amount of funding for Indian Health Service, education and many other programs that the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) depends upon to provide services. The number of people voting in each county determines the amount of funding received so your vote is very important.
Would you be able to vote if you had to pass a literacy test? Can you count the number of bubbles in a bar of soap? Can you count the number of jelly beans in a jar? These were some of the tests that were required for Black citizens prior to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Some of you may remember when Cherokees could not vote in the county elections. Can you imagine the pain and trauma many people endured when trying to exercise their rights as American citizens and were denied?
The late Congressional Representative John Lewis actually shed his blood in his efforts to draw attention to the fact that people of color were not allowed to vote. He was beaten, insulted and his life threatened along with many others involved in fighting for civil rights and voting rights in the 1960’s.
In the 2018 general election, only 39 percent of registered voters in the Whittier-Cherokee precinct voted. Are you OK with letting these people vote for you? Do you take your right to vote for granted? Do you exercise that vote every time there is an election? In addition to John Lewis and others fighting for voting rights of minorities, think of the thousands of Americans who have served and died in military service defending democracy and our right to vote.
Payson Kennedy, co-founder of the Nantahala Outdoor Center, participated in the marches in Selma, Ala. in 1965. He and some students marched to the court house in Selma to register Blacks to vote but they were refused. Kennedy said the speeches and marches all emphasized non-violence. They were asked to remain non-violent despite taunts and threats. Protestors today should follow their example.
The marches in which Payson Kennedy and his students participated plus the famous “Bloody Sunday” march from Selma to Montgomery on March 7, 1965 led to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. This act prohibited racial discrimination in voting and was signed into law on August 6, 1965 by President Lyndon Johnson. Kennedy is puzzled why people don’t vote when so many people put their lives on the line for this right. He believes our country is in a crisis today probably as bad as any other time in recent history.
In a letter written days before his death to be read on the day of his funeral, John Lewis repeated something he often said, “If you see something that is not right, you must say something and you must do something.”
Filmmaker Michael Moore stated: “Democracy is not a spectator sport, it’s a participatory event. If we don’t participate in it, it ceases to be a democracy.”
When you exercise your right to vote, you’ll be doing your part to maintain our democracy. Use your right to vote or lose it.