Why we must vote

By Maria Gitin

Special to the Sentinel Published Sunday July 20, 2014

Link: http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/Opinion/ci_26180697/Maria-Gitin:-Why-we-must-vote

Aug. 6 is the 49th anniversary of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. This landmark federal legislation prohibits racial discrimination in voting and led to removal of other barriers to voting that benefit people with disabilities, citizens with language differences and those whose work schedule requires weekend voting.

The act passed only after decades of civil rights activism. Well-known tragedies on the road to enfranchisement include the murder of four little girls in a Birmingham church, the assassination of three voting-rights activists during Mississippi Freedom Summer, and the “Bloody Sunday” attack on peaceful marchers crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.

These are the stories that most of us know, but for over a decade tens of thousands of African-American grassroots activists like Mrs. Rosetta Angion organized in obscurity. While working on voter registration project in 1965, I met Mrs. Angion, mother of 16 children in the rural community of Coy, Alabama, who somehow found time to participate in voting rights demonstrations. She told me that John Lewis, now a Georgia congressman and then leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, explained, “You were not a real citizen unless you could vote.” Her commitment was so strong that she allowed two of her young daughters to march on Bloody Sunday.

Mrs Rosetta Angion at home where we picked up canvassing lists and potential voters in Summer 2965

Mrs Rosetta Angion at home where we picked up canvassing lists and potential voters in Summer 2965

Following a presentation at Cabrillo College last year, a student asked me why he should register to vote. “After all, doesn’t voting just support the status quo?” Apparently, many agree with this discouraging view. Although better than the state average, only 34.8 percent of Santa Cruz County registered voters cast ballots in the recent primary election. Nationally, only 23 percent voted in the 2012 presidential election.

Why should we vote? There is a saying that bad officials are elected by good people who don’t vote. Low voter turnout results in a small fraction of voters electing officials who make decisions that affect all of us.

Mary Ann Angion Robinson shows me where she was attacked on March 7, 1965

Mary Ann Angion Robinson shows me where she was attacked on March 7, 1965

Thousands of courageous people like Mrs. Angion and her daughters risked their lives for your right to vote. To honor their legacy and to make your voice heard, please register now and vote in November. Visit Santa Cruz County’s elections website at www.votescount.com.

Maria Gitin will read from her book, “This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Voting Rights Fight,” at Bookshop Santa Cruz at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 11.

Mrs Rosetta Angion of Coy, Alabama – Civil Rights Hero

When I first spoke with Mrs Angion in 2009 she was in her late 70’s. She is a native of Coy, Alabama and the mother of 16 children. Mrs. Angion recalled the joy of being part of the Movement and the thrill of the victories from the long struggle. “One of the best days I will always remember is the day we marched with John Lewis. He walked with us right up to the courthouse and then he walked in—we could see him walking around inside where none of us had gotten inside before. That gave us a lot of courage; let me tell you. We were so proud that day! Now you go up there and there is Black people working in the courthouse, some of them are my relations. That I lived to see the day: yes, yes, yes!

Mrs Rosetta Angion at home where we picked up canvassing lists and potential voters in Summer 1965

There has been a BIG change since black people became citizens, able to vote, have a voice altogether like it should be. I am able to go to the polls. Those that are able to work can get a job. We are able to go in the courthouse and use the restrooms. I feel a lot safer. I know that Black people have rights just like white people, not every thing belongs to them.  We were just about coming out from under the hard slavery. I don’t think either my grandparents or parents were in slavery but my great grandparents were What really needs to happen now , people need to come together, work together and don’t be fighting against the other (within the Black community). Most of the ones that really benefitted and got the good jobs didn’t march and all that. I’m one of the few left that was there, who remembers it all. They should learn about our history. Keep working, it’s not over with. Keep tryin’ to help each other. Thank you,thank you kindly. – June 2, 2009

© Maria Gitin 2008. Excerpt from This Bright Light of Ours: Stories from the Wilcox County Freedom Fight. All rights reserved.