Every week there’s one news story that captivates me and accounts for the majority of my current events reading for the next seven days. This week, the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn a key portion of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 caught my attention.
Before the VRA was enacted, many states manufactured their own unauthorized rules that made it difficult for blacks to become registered voters. Blacks had to pass a literacy test. Or show a government-issued ID. Or recite the Declaration of Independence. Because of these discriminatory practices, registered black voters lagged behind registered white voters by up to 60% in 1965. Twenty-three years later, the gap had closed to an average of 6%.
This week in a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court decided to strike Section 4 of the VRA, which mandated that states with a history of discrimination to get federal approval before making any changes to their voting laws. When I heard the news, my heart sank that minorities will no longer have this protection against unfair voting practices.
In his majority opinion, Justice Roberts said Section 4 needed to be overturned because we’re living in a different time than we were in 1965 — though the fact that Paula Deen just admitted in a deposition that “of course” she had used the N-word makes me wary of declaring the U.S. post-racial.
The Supreme Court decision makes me wonder what will happen to minorities — and to all of us — if their voices are once again silenced at the polls?
The other story I’ve been following recently is the declining health of Nelson Mandela. In the light of the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Voting Rights Act, I thought about how tragic it would be to silence great voices like Mandela’s through voting discrimination.
And then I realized that his right to vote had been squelched because for 27 years, he was imprisoned for treason because he’d had the audacity to challenge South Africa’s apartheid practices.
For 27 years, he never pulled a lever behind a curtain or dropped a vote into a box or punched a chad out of a ballot. But, I realized this week as I read about his legacy, during all the time Mandela was imprisoned, he was voting.
Every minute, every hour, every year that he spent in jail, he may not have been voting with a ballot, but he was voting with his life. He was voting for equality and unity and dignity. He was voting for mutual understanding, asserting that surely if humans could be taught to hate, they could also be taught to love.
I went to church this Sunday, where we’re studying the Fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5. When our pastor announced the series a few weeks ago, I cringed because that passage makes me feel like a younger, female version of Shel Silverstein’s Giving Tree. I don’t want to produce all this amazing fruit like love and gentleness, only to have others consume it and leave me barren and empty.
But as I was thinking about voting this week, I realized that essentially what Galatians 5 says is because we love God and we’ve aligned our priorities with his, we get to vote for him with our lives. With each word we speak and every thought we think and every interaction we have, we’re voting over and over again for love and joy and patience and peace. We’re saying that not only is this how the world should be, but we’re giving others a glimpse into how the world will be when on earth as it is in heaven is not a prayer but a reality.
Going to the polls and casting a vote in an election is an important freedom, and we should continue to advocate for everyone’s right to participate. But in the whole scheme of things, days on which we vote with a ballot are nothing compared to all the days we vote with our lives.
Your life is your vote.
Cast it often.
Cast it well.