When my children were young, I took them with me to vote. Before we went into the polling place, I said to them, "We vote because somebody died so we could have the right to vote." Now I think the reason we vote is because somebody lived so we could have the right to vote.
This year I will cast my vote in honor of Fannie Lou Hamer. Fannie Lou Hamer was a hero of the civil rights movement. She was a sharecropper in Mississippi in 1962 when she attended a meeting on voter registration held at a local African-American church sponsored by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). After hearing the presentation, she knew she wanted to vote. She remembered the occasion: "Whey they asked for those to raise their hands who'd go down to the courthouse the next day, I raised mine. Had it high up as I could get it. I guess if I'd had any sense I'd a-een a little scared, but what was the point of being scared? The only thing they could do to me was kill me and it seemed like they'd been trying to do that a little bit at a time ever since I could remember."
Her decision had profound consequences for her and for her family. The plantation owner ordered her out of her house. The family that took her and her family in was targeted with gunshots in the night. She and others were taken to jail where she was beaten so badly that complications from that beating, along with breast cancer, took her life a few years later. Despite all this, she was a founder of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, and in 1964 challenged the credentials of the all white Mississippi delegation. They refused a compromise that would give the MFDP two seats. She said: "We didn't come for no two seats when all of us is tired." Not only did Fannie Lou Hamer work for voting rights, but she wanted to see African-American history taught in schools; she worked with Dorothy Height and the National Council of Negro Women to start day care centers, and she was active in a Freedom Farm Land project. She traveled throughout the United States telling the story of the struggle for freedom, including speaking before Malcolm X's organization. One of her more famous quotes is: "I am sick and tired of being sick and tired."
But, not only will I cast my vote in honor of Fannie Lou Hamer and her lifelong commitment to the struggle for human dignity, I will cast it in solidarity with men and women across the globe who do not have the privilege of going to the polls to help select the leaders of their countries. I will cast it in solidarity with this year's Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Liu Xiaobo, who sits in a Chinese prison. The Nobel committee said: "Through the severe punishment meted out to him, Liu has become the foremost symbol of this wide-ranging struggle for human rights in China." I will cast it in solidarity with Aung San Suu Kyi, 1991 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, who is scheduled to be released from house arrest after Burma's November 7 election. I will cast it in solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe, still suffering under the leadership of Robert Mugabe.
Our politics is often ugly to behold, but our right to vote is a sacred privilege and duty. Somebody lived and somebody died so we could have the privilege. And, it is our duty.
Dr. Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar who publishes lectures and essays at JustPeaceTheory.com. She received her Ph.D. in religion and society from Temple University and taught Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School.