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Freedom Day

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On January 23, 2014, an image of my father appeared on the front page of the Hattiesburg American, a local paper in Mississippi. The solemn picture shows an older African-American man recreating the city’s 1964 Freedom Day, when he was a 14-year-old civil rights activist demanding voting rights for all. He joined with hundreds of others across the beleaguered city.  He was a child, unable to use the very powers he sought for others, who nevertheless risked his own liberty to demand justice.

There will be elections all across the country this November, and like my father 50 years ago, we will be called to participate and vote; in the process, we will be standing for those who will remain voiceless if we do not. Our response to that call will be our legacy half a century from now. Did we balk at the difficult beginnings of a transformed health system that will give millions the ability to live better without fear of economic ruin?  Have we ignored the attempts to cut the fabric of our social safety net, distracted by stereotypes and rigid ideology? Did our votes go uncounted because we refused to secure the unnecessary - but required - identification?

The power of the vote is more than a right or an obligation. It is a powerful tool. In the proper hands, our votes alter the nature of our communities and our nation, much as my father’s protest helped change Mississippi. 

I live in Georgia now, a frontline for civil rights and the right to vote. Each Election Day is a call from my father’s 14-year old self across the lines of race and class and geography that might separate us. It is his call that I urge each of us to honor in 2014.

Let’s call Election Day by its rightful name beginning this year – for if we are willing to act, every Election Day has the chance to be our very own Freedom Day.

Stacey Abrams is the Georgia House Minority Leader and represents the 89th district, which includes the city of Atlanta.