by Catherine Share, congregant
When you filled out the High Holy Day survey that was sent from the Rabbi and the Gabbai committee, you probably noticed that the last few questions on the survey had nothing to do with services. We were interested in knowing whether you are registered to vote and if you plan to vote this November. You may be asking, “Why does the rabbi want to know this information?”
For most white Americans, voting has never been difficult. It is easy enough to register, go to the polls, and exercise our civic duty on election day. In fact, it has been such an easy thing that in most states less than 50% of white Americans choose to not even show up to vote. But it has not always been easy for Americans of color to vote. Although the 15th amendment, ratified in 1870, prohibited states from denying a male citizen the right to vote based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” the institution of Jim Crow and segregation in the late 1800s effectively eliminated the opportunity for Black Americans to vote, especially in the South.
It was not until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that most Americans of color across the South were finally able to register without facing blatant discriminatory practices designed to silence their voices. The act, sparked by the brutal attack on the Selma to Montgomery marchers at the Edmond Pettus in Selma, Alabama, in March 1965, was passed by congress a mere three months later. That march was led by a twenty-five-year-old man named John Lewis (of blessed memory) who died this past Friday.
I met John Lewis in the early 1970s when Andrew Young (a protégé of Dr. King) was running for the 5th District congressional seat in Atlanta. My former husband worked for his campaign and I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Lewis one day at the campaign headquarters. After that, I followed his career and admired his tenacity and his willingness to work for the good. He worked hard all his life and made “good trouble” when it was desperately needed. This country will sorely miss him.
So what has this to do with Bet Ha’am? The Religious Action Center (RAC) of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) has launched a campaign called “Every Voice, Every Vote” to encourage all US citizens to exercise their right to vote and to break down the obstacles that shut some out of the voting booth. In the last several years, Southern states have used the courts to gut the provisions of the Voting Rights Act, in order to exclude particularly people of color from exercising the franchise. John Lewis fought against these attempts to his dying day.
A small task force at Bet Ha’am has pledged to ensure 100% member voter registration and voting on Election Day. Please fill out the survey! We want to know if you are facing any challenges to registration or voting. We are here to help. In addition, we are working with other activists and hopefully other Jewish congregations in Maine to ensure a high voter turn out in November. Please do your part and put your Jewish values to work for the good of all.