“This is our ballot,” I said to my son and niece. I brought them with me to vote for the bond issues and City Council election on October 8, 2015. “They’re asking if we want to spend money on parks, or roads, or even if we want someone to be our leader.” The kids were only half listening, and I don’t blame them. Bond issues aren’t sexy and trying to explain their importance to kids is like trying to…well, it’s like trying to explain bond issues to kids. But I kept talking, because my real lesson was how important voting is.
This election saw record low numbers of Albuquerque residents at the polls. Less than 29,000 people, which may not sound bad until you hear 29,000 people is only 8% of eligible voters. Yes, people are busy and sometimes voting lines are long, but it was not long ago that many people, after having their vote stifled for a lifetime, would have gladly queued in those lines to have their voices heard and their votes counted. Years ago those long lines would not be open to me, a Native woman, and my children would not have this essential task to look forward too.
The history of this country is a showcase of women, people of color, and the poor violently blocked from civic duty and their pursuit of happiness. As an Indigenous person, I do not take it lightly. I do not wish for my child to take for granted any of the struggle his ancestors withstood for his free life.
Too often we have seen fights won and then abandoned. Too often we have become complacent in the “rights” others have secured for us, neglecting to question them again. The simple and vital act of voting, in any election, is under attack all across the country. City and county governments are trying, and succeeding, to implement voting barriers that disproportionately affect communities of color and elder populations. Today, as voting rights are continuously threatened, it is crucial for us to get to the polls at any and all opportunities. Change happens at the local level within our communities; one vote at a time.
We filled in our bubbles and proudly feed our ballot into the counting machine. I point to the screen where our ballot brings the tally up to a disheartening 348. To a child, 348 is a lot of anything, especially people. But to me, 348 is an insult. It is an insult to every woman and man who ever endured ridicule or outright violence to bring this right to the people. I only have the history books and stories of how hard won those fights were, but those stories are enough for me. They are enough for me to know I belong in those lines. We all belong there.