Community Voices Reflect on the
2020 Civil Rights Agenda
Voting, Democracy and Civil Rights
Gloria Ladson-Billings
Professor Emerita,
University of
Editor’s Note: As can be read in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech Give Us the Ballot, Dr. King believed that the right to vote would empower people
of color to non-violently change the Nation’s political, social and economic systems. In light of what has happened on the U.S. political decade for
the past decade and the pending 2020 presidential election, we asked some community voices to reflect on Voting, Democracy and Civil Rights.
Why Voting Really Matters

We are once again in an election cycle. These days it appears that we remain in this cycle. Most of us receive a steady stream of email solicitations, phone calls,
and political ads across all media platforms. Someone somewhere is asking us to contribute to campaigns at the national, state, and local levels. If you are like me
you are already sick and tired of the political talk. You just want lawmakers to get to work and start solving the problems facing our democracy. But, as an African
American woman, I do not have the luxury of sitting out elections. Too many have sacrificed too much for me to be cavalier about the process of voting.

I am especially motivated to vote this year not just because I am incensed with how democracy has been hijacked by foreign intervention, partisan re-districting,
and ongoing attempts at voter suppression. But beyond these obvious egregious assaults on our democracy, I am motivated to continue to participate in the
exercise of my vote by two people — Congressman Elijah Cummings and Congressman John Lewis.

Congressman Cummings passed away late last year after a courageous battle against cancer. He once said, “Our children are the living messages we send to a
future we will never see... Will we rob them of their destiny? Will we rob them of their dreams? No - we will not do that.” His steadfast commitment to the future
despite his own prognosis reminds me that I have no right to sit out an election.
The second reason for my enthusiasm for voting is Congressman John Lewis. Representative Lewis is the embodiment of the modern Civil Rights Movement. No
member of Congress has suffered the beatings and sheer terror of White racism in the way Representative Lewis has and yet his belief in democracy is steadfast.
Near the end of 2019, Congressman Lewis, who once stood side by side with Martin Luther King, Jr., announced that he had been diagnosed with Stage IV
pancreatic cancer — a disease for which there is no cure and he stated, “I have been in some kind of fight — for freedom, equality, basic human rights — for nearly
my entire life, I have never faced a fight quite like the one I have now… but I have a fighting chance!” Both men remind me of the bigger picture and what we are
fighting for.

However, I do understand those segments of our society who say, “I’m not going to vote, my vote doesn’t count anyway.” When you are a part of a group who has
been systematically ignored and oppressed by a society, why wouldn’t you believe the system is rigged, or you have no stake in it, and you cannot win no matter
what you do? For years in one of my undergraduate classes, I had students participate in a simulation game that deliberately created winners and losers. The
winners kept winning and the losers kept losing. And, the winners had the opportunity to make new game rules after each round. Those rules almost always
became more oppressive and continued to advantage the winners. Within two rounds I began to see those who were “losers” stop playing. When I asked why they
had stop participating, they often said, “What’s the point? We can’t win no matter what we do.” I was able to create in my classroom in less than 45 minutes what
people in inner cities and rural poverty have felt for generations. When people feel they have no chance of success, they reach a level of frustration that quickly
leads to apathy. Why participate if my voice will go unheard?

I try to remind my students that the reason we participate in democracy is not to “win.” We participate because it is our civic obligation. For African Americans I
remind us that we are not called to be “successful” — we are called to struggle. That may seem a cynical outlook, but consider the long road we have traveled.
When African Americans were enslaved, achieving emancipation was not success. It was a step in the struggle. When African Americans moved from
sharecropping and living under Jim Crow to northern cities as a part of the Great Migration it was not success. It was a step in the struggle. When African
Americans marched in the streets, boycotted buses, and withstood fire hoses and police dogs that was not success. It was another part of the struggle. Even when
we elected Barak Obama as the first President of African American descent, that was not success (even though we celebrated like it was). It was another step in
the struggle.

Today we are experiencing an incredible retrenchment of civil rights as a result of the 2016 election. Our efforts toward quality health care, immigration reform,
voter suppression, justice reform, income inequality are all part of what we are fighting for. These are some of the reasons why we must vote, why we must
educate ourselves about the candidates and the issues, and why we have to participate in the struggle for democracy!
Dr. Ruben Anthony Jr.
President/CEO of the
Urban League of
Greater Madison
It’s a Different World

It is going to be critical that we All are heavily involved in voter education starting today through November 2020. There is a lot at stake in 2020 that will affect our
short-term and long-term futures. To get maximum community participation in the elections, we must help make it easier for people to know how to vote and how to
make an informed decision about candidates who are seeking office. We must put “easy to use tools” at the fingertips of the public, so that they know how to find
voter’s information, how to register to vote, how to locate their voting polls, how to know what candidates are running in their area and how to find out what these
candidates believe in. This means that candidates need to come and talk to us and tell us what they will accomplish, and they must commit not to put politics over
country.  They should demonstrate, before we elect them, that they believe and support issues that are important to us. And, they should have a proven track

I am calling on all organizations, who care about restoring faith in our democracy, to get engaged like you have never been before. Now is the time to act. America
must continue to be a country “for the people and led by the people.” Our input must still matter in elections and we must elect politicians that support the voice
and the will of the people.

Why is it important to vote?
I am not going to tell you that you ought to vote because of all the sacrifices that were made by our predecessors so that you can experience the freedom and the
democracy that you have enjoyed; you know that. If you don’t feel like you need to do something about how this country has changed for the worse in recent time, I
don’t know what to tell you. If you have lived in America, for the past three years or more, you should need no convincing that getting to the polls and casting your
vote and helping to elect politicians that support things that protect the interest of you, your children and your grandchildren is more important today than ever

There are public policy decisions that are occurring that will adversely affect a multitude of generations and some of the impacts will not be reversible. We must
stop electing public officials, who consider it more important to get re-elected than to address factors that will adversely affect the lifestyle and the way of life that
we know. We must stop electing public officials, who are self-servicing and not for the people and elect public officials who believe that democracy is worth
fighting for, even if it means that they serve only one term. We must stop electing public officials who lie more than they tell the truth and elect public officials who
believe in truth and Justice. We are at a critical point in world history, that the mis-judgement of public officials today has the potential to puts our peace and
existence at risk. We must begin to make our votes count for the future of this country and for mankind.

We are electing politicians that are building a climate of hate and bias in American culture, in our courts and in our educational and economic institutions. It is our
responsibility as citizens to stand up for principles that help move this country forward. It is up to us to show the rest of the world that democracy can and still
works. We must protect the future of our children. It is critical that we all vote this year because Wisconsin is a swing state and how Wisconsin votes will have an
impact on the outcome of the national election just as it did in 2016.

In 2020, elections will be held on February 18th, April 7th, April 11th, November 3rd, February 16th   and August 6th. The following websites are good resources to
provide additional information about the elections:
Your democracy is under attack when states like Wisconsin attempt to remove 200,000
registered voters from the rolls; or when states fight to keep legislative district
gerrymandered, so that it is biased towards one party; or when the DMV that provides
the most drivers licenses in the Dane County region, is moved nearly one mile from the
nearest bus stop making it nearly impossible for the handicapped to access driver’s
licenses and identification. Democracy is challenged when gerrymandered districts
have allowed one party to control the Senate and the Assembly and tie the hands of a
governor that was elected by the people. When this occurs, despite party, it is a sign
that our democracy is damaged and needs fixing and it can only be fixed by everyone
exercising their right to vote in all elections.

We better wake up and recognize that some politicians are very deliberately stacking
the deck against us. They are creating structures that are silencing our voices and they
are creating structures that are taking our voting rights away. Your vote still counts
and it is powerful. Now is the time to stand up and not let our elected officials tear
down our democracy right in our faces.

Civil Rights
If we have learned anything over the years about Civil Rights, we know that they were
not simply given to us; they are rights that came as result of many bloody protests and
sacrifices. Once they are gained; they are not guaranteed to stay forever. Each
generation must do its part to protect Civil Rights and stay “woke” to make sure that
our rights are not being taken away on purpose or by accident. Many of us inherited
Civil Rights.

All the groups that are benefiting from Civil Rights, we need you in the fight to maintain
our Civil Rights. There are many who have benefited from this fight, but they will walk
by you and not speak. In these times, we must be better to each other and more united.
We can’t let age divide us; each generation plays a different role. Young people have
the energy, innovation and the millennial boldness and realness. Older people have
experience, wisdom and history. We can’t let gender divide us, because there are both
men and women that have been very critical to our history.

Today, we need everybody; we can’t leave anybody behind. In this fight for Civil Right,
we need all hands-on deck. Sure, Black boys are struggling more than Black girls
today, but we must fight for all our children. We must also celebrate “Black Girl magic.”
We must leverage the Black women’s political prowess and the role that they have
played in advancing the race. We must also recognize the contribution of the Black
man. Together, we have work to do. I hope that you will join the movement in 2020 to
fight to protect our democracy.
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