On December 15, 2021, Martin Luther King III called for action toward voting rights stating “No celebration without legislation.”
This MLK Day, we encourage you to honor this by talking to the young people in your care about voting rights.
What Is Voting and Why Does It Matter?
Living in our country requires participation. The rights we have (or lose) depend on all of us which means we individually hold a lot of power. The concept of personal responsibility and the balance of power is something youth can understand, even if not in those terms.
What is Voting Suppression?
Any registered US citizen 18 years old and older can vote, but that wasn’t always the case.
Originally, only certain white men could legally vote. A century later, all men of age born in the US (excluding Indigenous men) gained voting rights, including Black men. However, with that change came new voting laws for Black Americans. Including forcing them to pay a poll tax or take a literacy test to be able to cast a ballot. Although they technically had the right to vote, many polling locations instilled obstacles to prevent them from doing so. This is voter suppression.
What About Now?
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a leader in the Civil Rights Movement, advocating for equality and fair voting rights. Thanks in part to Dr. King and fellow advocates, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law, making it illegal to prevent eligible Black individuals from voting. This allowed them to exercise their voting rights or legally challenge discrimination should it occur. Unfortunately, dedication to the Voting Rights Act continues to waver and the need to preserve these rights remains.
Poll taxes and literacy tests are a thing of the past, but in 2021 states across the US loosened their grip on voting rights. Across 19 states, 34 laws restricting voting access passed. These laws disproportionally affect BIPOC voters and voters with disabilities, making it more difficult for them to make their voices heard.
It is imperative that these communities vote so that we may live in a just country focussed on quality of life and equity for all.
Help Young People Activate
- Ask them what matters to them. This worksheet can help ignite their inner activist.
- Teach them about other young activists working to change the world.
- Normalize the election process so they understand what is happening during important elections. Remember, 2022 is a midterm election year!
- Encourage them to make art as a means of expression. Being comfortable in their voice and values will help when it’s their turn to vote.