By Richard Johnson
The need to exercise the right to vote was and still is a long battle that has cost precious lives at every turn throughout the struggles. Personally, I get it with those who don’t see the need to go and vote, however I came to the realization that when I and other formerly incarcerated persons refuse to utilize the power of the ballot, we basically surrender our rights, which then allows the powers that be to dictate the terms of our existence without hearing our voices.
If we don’t voice our wishes through exercising our right to vote, then how can we complain? Granted, too often our choices aren’t the winners. Nonetheless, by voting, it is made clear that we’re paying attention and our votes will count at some point.
Between the time of the publishing of this column and Election Day on Nov. 8, The Formerly Incarcerated Giving Back organization will be out in full force registering people to vote, because we do recognize the need for everyone to have a say in matters that concern our very lives.
It can become quite discouraging to watch all the national moves that are being made and the games that are being played to suppress the votes of minorities and to scare the re-entry populations from going to the polls.
This can be quite discouraging, especially when we have very little hope, faith and trust in the process from the start. But we can’t be deterred and surrender to the forces that be; instead, we must marshal the tools that are at our disposal in hopes of making changes toward our interests.
Thanks to Gay and Paul Cobb, the owners of the Post News Group (who once marched with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to reinstate our constitutional voting rights that led to the 1965 Voting Rights Bill signed by President Lyndon Johnson), I am able to use this media to remind us that we are living in such terrible times and that our choices are crucial to our very existence in every manner conceivable.
I ask all of you to take a look at the violence that happens routinely, look at the homelessness, look at those who appear to be mentally challenged who are forced to get by without the help needed, look at the children being bounced around due to unregulated school policies — not to mention those of us living from paycheck to paycheck.
When you count up the costs of cleaning up and addressing the miseries you see around us, you will agree that a stand must be taken, and it starts at the polls. Voting allows us to put in office those who we deem as truly qualified to address the most pressing issues confronting Oakland and the surrounding communities.
The process of change isn’t always as automatic and swift as an ATM transaction. Rather, change can only happen by doing everything that is necessary to make it happen, and voting is a necessity for change.
By doing nothing, stagnation remains. FIGB will work diligently for everyone regardless of district, race, culture, religion, and any beliefs.
It will take a concerted effort by all to get people to register, then to the polls, particularly in the more depressed sectors of city. I pray that we get off the sidelines and get into the fray to make a difference.
We must be accountable, if not for the present, then for the future that our families will inherit.
Not long ago in Florida about 20 formerly incarcerated individuals were arrested and locked up for allegedly voting illegally prior to the passage of a law allowing them to vote. Authorities waited more than five years to charge them with a crime.
This clearly proves the power of permitting the formerly incarcerated vote. There’s real power in the voting process especially if and when the formerly incarcerated and their families exercise their right to vote.