The Voting Rights Act of 1965 – Reflections of a Generation Xer

I was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1973. My parents were immigrants from Guyana, a small Caribbean country on the northern coast of South America and they always believed in the American reality: that working hard, being a good person and staying conscientious were virtues with guaranteed dividends. They believed in the morality of American public discourse and in the relevance of the individual vote in local and national political conversations. I can remember overhearing my father and his friends as they spent hours discussing American culture, politics, and social change. It was, after all, the 1970’s. And those conversations planted seeds which would later set me on the path to pursue justice; social, political and otherwise.

Before many of us were born, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act (VRA) into law on August 6th, 1965. For those of us who came right after the enactment of the VRA, we had books, oral histories, films, and other forms of historical recollections to rely upon for reflection and collective thought. But then, we turned 18 years of age and became voter eligible.

Some of us did not understand the political process; we did not understand the power of democracy. Some of us did. For some, the idea of voting was intimidating and foreign; we were concerned with other things in our lives as we were new adults. And attending college was one of those “other things” we were concerned about.

The Generation Xers went to college, grew up and had families of their own. We studied Political Science, Economics, Medicine, and Psychology. We became increasingly engaged in the political process in our local and national spaces, and we brought our children along with us, like my parents did for my siblings and me. We now understood that the importance of the local and national discussions were to never be ignored.

Last year, the Supreme Court changed the landscape of public participation in local and national discussions in this nation: by gutting Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, the United States has been thrown into states of restriction, court challenges, along with measured voting expansions.

As we stand as a nation of laws, there are currently 22 states set to impose restrictions on a cornerstone of American democracy: the right to vote. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 15 states are set to impose first-time voting restrictions in federal elections, with restrictions including provisions regarding early voting, voting roll purging, voting registration times, and voting ID requirements. And some states have made it harder for individuals with criminal histories to participate in the political process as well. It has been argued by some opponents of voting restrictions that the impacts of these political practices may disproportionately impact voting access of people of color, students, the elderly, the poor, and Latino voters as well.

As I reflect upon my own history in the voting booth, I cannot imagine a time when voting was not possible for me, nor did I imagine a time where my children may have a more difficult time casting a vote than I had. Generation Xers are now encouraging their children to participate in our democracy, amid a volatile political and social landscape in the United States. It is a landscape that is somewhat discouraging, yet ripe with the opportunity for progressive movement and still more dynamic and forward-looking than anywhere else in the world.

The single most powerful voice that any individual has in this democracy is their vote, and it is a right that should not be infringed upon nor made more difficult to exercise. We all owe it to the many people who sacrificed their time, livelihoods and even lives to preserve this sacred right of American democracy. Many of us are politically active and aware, but we owe it to ourselves and our communities to light that fire within others to ensure maximum participation in our democracy.

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