Being born in the United States, I grew up taking my right to vote for granted. Whenever election season rolled around, a feeling of dread entered my head. I imagined the hours I would have to spend waiting in line, only to have to decide between the lesser of two evils. In the face of my disillusionment with the political system, I was neglecting the fact that in this country, we are afforded a rare opportunity in our ability to vote.
We must remember that the right to vote is not guaranteed; countless people around the world have had to shed blood and lay down their lives in order to attain this basic human right of having a voice. But having a voice in the political arena is a privilege that not all of us share. For the millions of undocumented citizens living in the United States, the coming elections serve as a reminder of their status as politically disenfranchised. Despite there being no provisions in the Constitution against their right to vote, many immigrants who live, work, and pay taxes in this country are denied a say in their futures. Americans have fought and died for the people's right to not be taxed without representation, and this exclusionary practice only serves to belittle their sacrifices and the fundamental tenets this country was founded upon.
Citizenship does not necessarily grant voting rights, however. Approximately four million Americans will not be able to vote in the upcoming elections due to previous felony convictions. In California, a person convicted of a felony cannot vote while incarcerated or on parole. Since we know that the U.S. legal system disproportionately convicts the socioeconomically disadvantaged and people of color, this policy is a calculated effort in continuing the political repression of these demographics.
Those of us who are eligible to vote are morally obligated to do so. It is not only our civic duty, but our human duty to add our voices to the millions of Americans who are denied the same opportunity.
Some of us may feel disillusioned. Some of us may feel that our system of democracy is broken, and that we do not have the representation that we are entitled to. But apathy is not the answer; disengaging from the political process will only further our disenfranchisement. If you register to vote and participate in the upcoming elections, you have the power to inform the ruling bodies of this city, state and country of your intentions to take control of what happens to us. You are telling them that if they want to remain in power, they have to meet our wants and needs. We are active participants in our own lives; all of us must come together and contribute our voices in building our destinies.
Lana Woodward is a student activist and ally to undocumented students at San Jose State University. She is a 4th year Behavioral Science student at San Jose State University and the Community Liaison of Student Advocates for Higher Education.