Ida Bae Wells @nhannahjones Reporter @nytmag covering race in the U.S. from 1619-present//AKA The Beyonce of Journalism//Co-founder //smart and thuggish// Nov. 05, 2018 4 min read

I know some of you have ambivalence abt voting tomorrow. I know your timelines have been flooded with folks saying people died for your right & it's disrespectful to squander it. They're right. But in the abstract, maybe it is hard to grasp. So, I'd like to offer some detail.

In 2014, I traveled to Mississippi, my ancestral land, for the first time in my life in order to document the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, a deadly and violent few months aimed at bringing democracy to the blackest state in the nation. It was a transformative experience.

The Civil Rights Movement had gotten traction in other areas -- desegregating lunch counters and libraries -- but when it came to in voting in Mississippi, the year may as well hv been 1880. Ths was especially so in my dad's hometown, Greenwood, where blk vastly outnumbered white

Black people in Greenwood made up 2/3 of the citizens, yet just 2 percent of the voters. And white Mississippians maintained their control through a barbaric system of violent oppression enacted by some of the most prominent citizens of the state.

We tend to think of the CRM in somewhat gauzy terms. Folks marching, ketchup poured on heads and, occasionally, hosed down with water. It was far worse. In trying to exert their 15A right to vote, blk Mississippians were castrated, dragged behind cars, sunk in the river, lynched

More than any other right, white folks understood that it was in exercising the right to vote that gave and ensured power in every other aspect of life. The list of black activists who lost their lives by bullet, by rope, by beatings is inconceivable to those who don't study it.

Much as today, there was little interest by either political party to pass and sustain legislation that would guarantee the voting rights of black people. And mainstream America was just as disinterested in the black bodies piling up as they tried to uphold the Constitution.

That's why Bob Moses and others hatched the idea to bring white college students down to MS to help the voting rights effort. I'll never forget the chill I got when Moses said they hoped white folks cld see through the danger of other white people wht they refused to see for blk

He was right. Just as soon as Freedom Summer, began 3 civil rights workers, two white and one black, disappeared and were later found dead. It was only with the killing of these white men that the FBI opened a field office there and the nation began to care abt blk voting rights.

The Voting Rights Act would be passed a year later, after @repjohnlewis and others were nearly beaten to death in Selma by white officers who stampeded them with horses and beat them about their heads with batons.

The rights enshrined in the Voting Rights Act, literally born of the blood of our ancestors, have since been gutted by the @scotus and states have passed a wave of laws attempting to make the rights our ancestors died for more difficult to exercise. They want you not to vote.

These aren't our ancient ancestors. @repjohnlewis is still here. Bob Moses, beaten more times than you can count, is still here. Our grandmothers are still here. If you can't look them in the eye and explain why their sacrifice meant nothing, then get out & vote. Period.

Do you think Fannie Lou Hamer & Medgar Evers had good candidates to vote for? None of the candidates were fighting for them. But they understood if they couldn't & didn't vote, none of the candidates ever would. This is as true now as it was then. VOTE. It is your duty.

Last word: I am seeing folks saying that vote shaming isn't a good tactic. This was not about shaming, but informing. I just believe most folks do not really understand what it took to get this right, and perhaps, not knowing makes it easier to take for granted.

We are not taught this history. We get told that @repjohnlewis marched, got hit, and then we got our rights. We don't understand how long and hard and deadly this struggle taken on by regular folks, sharecroppers and maids, really was. We don't learn the names of all the dead.

We don't learn about how after the 1965 VRA, black people in Greenwood STILL could not vote. How the native black folks who remained in MS after the white college students left were retaliated against both physically and economically. How they STILL suffer for what they did.

There is a man in Greenwood TODAY, whose teeth got shot out of his face for working on voting rights, who lives on the edge of town in poverty because the white folks have for decades punished his family for daring to push for our basic human and constitutional rights.

So, I'm sorry if you do not want to feel a sense of duty, or to be "shamed" for not voting. Maybe it's because you never had to look into the eyes of a man whose mouth was blown apart and who doesn't have a pot to piss in so that you could make your CHOICE. But, I'm not that free 

You can follow @nhannahjones.


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