Note from Carmen: Brian originally submitted this post to me right around Election Day. I didn’t get a chance to post it until this week, but I still think it’s very relevant, especially with the continued intensive news coverage around the presidential race.
by Anti-Racist Parent columnist Brian Johnson
Each November, the nation’s citizens take advantage of their democratic rights and head to the polls and cast their votes. I do not consider myself the most patriotic person; but, Election Day is the one day a year where I feel most “American.” I am angered (nay, disgusted) by the scores of people that do not vote–those who are not registered, and those who are but choose not to for whatever reason.
In my household, voting is a sacred activity. I feel it is my civic duty and moral obligation to teach my children the importance of voting. My kids look forward to election days (primaries and general elections) as I talk about voting as if Christmas were on the way. On the morning of elections, the kids know that as soon as I get home from work, we are heading to the polling place. I should mention here that I have four kids—two of whom are adults (26 &22), and the other two are ten and eight—the younger two are still at home. In the preceding days, we talk about the candidates, the issues, and why we are voting for particular people. I love when there are special referenda on the ballots because it really gives us a chance to talk about specific issues.
When we get to the polling location, my wife and our kids enter the room and are greeted with great affection—“The Johnson family is here.” That’s right, we go as a family. Since they were able to walk, the kids have gone into the booth with my wife and me. One goes with her and the other with me (they “vote” on which will accompany which parent). They are the ones who pull the lever (now, with the electronic balloting, they push the buttons—with our instruction). It’s their little fingers that choose the candidates that we select. The workers at the polls laud us for making this a family affair. I smile when they notice, but it is not about the recognition from the pollsters; it is so, so much more.
My kids look at me strange when I emerge from the ballot box in tears. I admit it, I cry each time I vote—it never fails. This past Election Day was no different. I take pride in being able to tell them why I am a bit emotional. I get to remind them that someone died for our right to vote—that after the passage of the Voting Rights Act allowing Blacks to vote for the first time, people were beaten and abused; some lost their lives. We vote in their honor and memory. We vote as a family as a testimony to the indomitable spirit of our ancestors who withstood the ugliness of oppression just to cast that ballot. Many of them were unable to read or write, but they showed up at those polls and signed their “X” on the line—sometimes called “making your mark.” And for the Johnson family, we owe it to those forebears, to ourselves, and to those who will come after us to make our mark on this world.
Brian Johnson is committed to fostering intercultural learning and building communities across layers of difference. He is an ordained minister and is the founder of Manna Unlimited Motivations, a motivational education company that provides diversity education for schools and businesses.