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Your vote counts!

26 Nov 2005

By depriving us of suffrage, you affirm our incapacity to form an intelligent judgment respecting public men and public measures; you declare before the world that we are unfit to exercise the elective franchise, and by this means lead us to undervalue ourselves, to put a low estimate upon ourselves, and to feel that we have no possibilities like other men.

Frederick Douglass

I got into a discussion with a Jamaican woman at work recently on the subject of voting. She confessed that she is one of those non-voting blacks. She gave me this example: If there are six political parties up for election and none of the six parties care about black people and their issues, why should we bother voting because it’s always been the same and it will always be the same. She added that she wouldn’t vote until a black person willing to seriously tackle the issues affecting the black community is on the ballot. At the Black Business Professional Association (BBPA) town hall meeting on gun violence a few weeks ago, one of the audience members mentioned that their organization wanted to meet with the different levels of government to discuss the issue of gun violence, but they all declined.

I wondered if among other things, these politicians were thinking “why should I bother to do anything for blacks since they are only a minority of the population and many in the black community don’t vote anyway?"

If as a people we don’t vote, how can we expect our problems to be heard?

The Reverend. Al Sharpton says: “we must begin to demand something for our vote” and I agree. The numbers from last year’s federal election show that the lower income ridings seemed to bring less voter turnout. In areas such as Etobicoke North, Scarborough-Rouge River, York South and York West where more than 15,000 black people live, the voter turnout was around 50%. Compare that to ridings such as Toronto Centre, Pickering-Scarborough East, Toronto-Danforth and Trinity-Spadina that all had over a 60% turnout.

When it comes to any level of our government it’s obvious we must help them, for them to help us. I’ve heard some say that it seems highly unfair, since as citizens of this country everyone should have a say in what happens whether you vote or not. The reality however is that only voting creates a voice for our community. And according to many activists including Alexis McGill, Executive Director of Citizen Change, (a U.S. non-profit organization created to educate, motivate and empower young voters) “It’s important that we have leverage in our community to sustain new policies”. Choosing not to vote means your voice will not be heard because you’re saying to the government, “I don’t care who wins!” So why should the government care about your needs? Through our vote we have a say in what happens in our country and we can hold politicians liable for the promises that are not kept.

The black community must reach out and understand that as one cohesive unit we can bring about change to lower income neighbourhoods. Voting power will hold the government responsible for being slow to react to key issues such as gun violence.

According to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms “Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.”

We are not second class citizens. We have the same rights as everyone else and we need to be heard. If you don’t feel that the current politicians care about you or issues that are important to you, then get involved in politics or encourage someone else you know to get involved. We should also be aware of the issues driving the election. We should hold the elected officials accountable for their words and promises. Malcolm X said “There are poor nations in the UN; yet those poor nations can get together with their voting power and keep the rich nations from making a move. They have one nation — one vote, everyone has an equal vote. And when those brothers from Asia, and Africa and the darker parts of this earth get together, their voting power is sufficient to hold Sam in check. Or Russia in check. Or some other section of the earth in check. So the ballot is most important.”

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