A trip down disenfranchisement lane
A little over 40 years ago—that’s in the 1970s for those keeping count at home—half of you would not have been able to vote. Because in 1971, the voting age was actually twenty-one, and it took an amendment to the Constitution to secure that. A little thought experiment—if you’re in that group, imagine you couldn’t vote this year.
Five years before that, if you were poor — a number of U.S. states would actively stop you from voting. Imagine you couldn’t vote.
Two years before that, 1965, was the first time many racial minorities were allowed the vote in the United States. That was the fight we learned all about in US history class in high school. When dogs and police were set upon men, women and children, when cities rose up in protest and one of the greatest men our country has seen was murdered in the pursuit of equal rights for Americans. If you’re a racial minority, imagine that right was taken from you.
Women and Native Americans couldn’t vote until the 1920s, less than a hundred years ago. That’s more than half the student body of the college. Women of Luther College, imagine that the suffragettes had been defeated—that you couldn’t vote.
Now we’re left with the men. Really, the privileged ones. Historically and even now. Minority men who happened to live in more progressive states had no guarantee to voting rights until 1870. And only fifty years earlier, property qualifications were abolished. We’re in 1820 now. And if you don’t own your own land, it looks like you’re out of luck. Your vote in this thought experiment has been taken away.
I know I certainly wouldn’t be able to vote, and I’ve benefited from all the privilege being an upper-middle class white man can offer. Ultimately, the right to vote is our last defense against unfettered privilege. The right to vote has secured power in this country for those who would otherwise be powerless and given a voice to the men and women who had been systematically silenced and oppressed in this country for over a hundred years.
But that was a long time ago. What about now?
Can you still vote?