By Grace Masback
WANT Original Content
I’ve seen two fictionalized depictions of real events over the last few months that have reinforced for me how lucky I am to be an American, and how important it is for thoughtful, socially and politically aware citizens to exercise their right to vote. Based on what I’ve seen and know already, I’ll register to vote as soon as I am eligible, and I’ll exercise my right to vote every year.
I’ll begin with an admission – I am political geek. A faithful viewer of The Daily Show, I share Jon Stewart’s cynical, snarky, view toward politics in America, but also share his ultimate view that government and laws matter and can be a force for good. I also share the view that America’s constitutional and governmental systems are a model for good governance, when the system works. I’ll miss Jon Stewart, but remain committed to his “politics matter” ethos.
Given my geek status, going to see the movie Selma earlier this year counted as a “fun” family outing. Though uplifting at many points, the film’s depiction of the fight for voting rights in the Deep South in the early 1960s was a sobering reminder that many Americans didn’t have access to the most basic American rights as recently as 50 years ago (with some of those rights still under attack in many states today). The courage exhibited by Martin Luther King, Jr. and his cohorts was inspiring — they literally put their lives on the line to fight for the right to vote for African-Americans. It was impossible to see the movie and not be moved by the symbolic and actual importance of voting. If others would risk life and limb to vote, how can I fail to take advantage of the right to vote today?
Last month, I saw a one man play, Hold These Truths, which tells the story of Gordon Hirabayashi, a man who believed so completely in the promise of America that he took a stand for which he paid dearly. Based on interviews with Hirabayashi, his letters while imprisoned, and articles written in the 1940s, Hold These Truths describes how Hirabayashi openly defied the laws that led to the incarceration of more than 120,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II. In 1942, while still a student at the University of Washington, Hirabayashi refused to follow a federally-imposed curfew, calling it racially discriminatory and a violation of his rights as a U.S. citizen. He was arrested, convicted, and jailed. He appealed his conviction all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where he lost, with the Court saying the government actions were necessary due to “military necessity.”
How is this story inspiring and what does it have to do with voting? Hirabayashi never gave up. He and others wronged by the government actions to imprison Japanese-Americans never stopped fighting, lobbying politicians, and filing court cases. More than 40 years later, he won a dismissal of his wartime convictions based on evidence that proved government misconduct and disproved the theory that Japanese-Americans posed any threat to the American war effort. He was honored by President Obama with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, our nation’s highest civilian honor, for taking such a bold stand against such an unjust law. Voting and elections mattered, as the very system that had convicted and imprisoned him later forgave and honored him.
If you think these stories are mere relics from the history books, I refer you to the “Black Lives Matter” movement of today. Engagement in the world around us and speaking up for what’s right is a necessity in our world today if you want to maintain the institutions and standards that define American democracy. Your ultimate “voice” in making our world a better place comes at the ballot box, and you can only vote if you register to vote. So, celebrate National Voter Registration Day in September 22 and honor the memory of Dr. King and Gordon Hirabayashi by registering to vote.
Photo Credit: Seattle Globalist