Ain’t I a Citizen?

By Arielle K. Andrews

The importance of being engaged in politics was instilled in me at a very young age. When I was two years-old, my parents had me reciting the presidential cabinet to anyone that would listen. “Madeweine Albwight,” I would say, it was close enough. By the age of ten, I knew every president in order, and the years that they served in office; I still do. Needless to say, once I turned 18, I was eager to finally make my opinion count and my voice heard by voting at the polls for local and national elections. As a black person and a woman, I see voting as a responsibility made possible only by the many men and women who came before me that were willing to die for the cause. The right to vote was out of reach for minority citizens for so many years that the ramifications of this oppression are still prevalent in debates over “The Voting Rights Act” in southern states such as North Carolina. Voting is a civic duty that should not be taken lightly. People risked their lives for this opportunity to choose, yet many constituents today aren’t even willing to sacrifice the time or gas money it takes to exercise their right to vote. What would Sojourner Truth say?

In 1851, Sojourner Truth gave a speech at the Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio entitled “Ain’t I a Woman?” The purpose of this speech was to address the issues of suffrage and women’s rights from a Black woman’s perspective. She states, “That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman?” She continues, “Then they talk about this thing in the head; what’s this they call it? [Intellect, somebody whispers] That’s it, honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or negroes rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure-full?”

Sojourner challenged the constraints to her voting rights by rhetorically questioning her womanhood. Nonetheless, in contemporary times, the question would most likely be, “Ain’t I a citizen?”

This year marks the 100th Anniversary of the Women’s Suffrage Parade, 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and 40th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade. These landmark events would not have been possible without the innovative leadership and passionate dedication of the many people involved. People were willing to participate in sit-ins and marches with posters raised high. They fought for voting rights, civil rights, and women’s rights until legislation was changed and they were granted the equality that they relentlessly sought. They were heroes and revolutionaries, paving the way for all of us to have greater freedoms. Women were at the forefront of these movements, playing pivotal roles in protecting basic democratic rights. It is our duty to carry out their legacy, if not by picketing and marching then by checking a box at the polls to make our opinions known.

Look at the 2013 mayoral primary turnout rates in New York and Detroit. These numbers are alarming. Detroit had a near-record low turnout of 18% and New York City had a turnout of 20%. Decisions on who represents our interests are being made by a handful of citizens. According to the Huffington Post, “Voters who stay home on Election Day are missing the opportunity to take part in building stronger communities and to have a say in the issues that matter most to them.”

We must develop a higher regard for all elections, across the board. Black women voted at a higher rate than any other demographic in the 2012 presidential election by representing over 68% of the black electorate. Imagine transferring these numbers to local elections.  Each vote has the power to enact change in legislation and representation.

In exercising our rights to vote, we pay homage to those before us by engaging as active citizens. Voting allows us to control the strings of government and carve out our own futures. Tomorrow we’ll be heading to the polls nationwide, and, whether democrat, republican, or independent, all constituents should play a part in selecting their elected representatives and statewide initiatives. There is no excuse for ever forfeiting the right to vote. Therefore, the next time somebody asks you if you’ll be exercising this constitutional right, reply “Ain’t I a citizen?”

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Arielle Andrews is a sophomore at NYU majoring in Political Science. She was formerly a contributor at GlobalGrind.com. She aspires to have a career in public policy and is an intern for Higher Heights for America.