Continuing the Work

The United States of America was founded on the simple proposition that all people are created equal and everyone deserves a say in how they are governed, but never in our history has this proposition been fully realized. The promise of our founding is most thoroughly embodied by the right to vote. The simple act of voting is the defining characteristic of our democracy and inseparable from any of the other freedoms promised to us in our constitution. Those who are denied the right to vote simply cannot be considered free.

Therefore, when Americans are unwilling or unable to vote, the very basis of our freedom is undermined. For this very reason, generations of Americans have fought passionately to expand suffrage to women, to minorities, to young people, and to every other group that has been denied their most fundamental right. In 1964, those being denied their rights were people of color in the American south. Andrew Goodman, Mickey Schwerner, and James Chaney rode to Mississippi in the summer of 1964 because they saw the injustice of the Jim Crow system and wanted to do something about it. They went south simply to register voters, to fight back against the structures that had kept southern blacks from the polls for a century. They knew they were riding into danger. They knew they would be unwelcome, their cause scorned and lives put in jeopardy. And yet they still rode. They rode because they knew that until all Americans were empowered with the right to vote, no Americans would be truly free. A nation founded on freedom, they knew, could not exist half free and half unfree. They rode, and they were killed. They died so their fellow Americans could be free.

It is in spirit of Andrew Goodman, Mickey Schwerner, James Chaney, and the other freedom riders that I fight for social justice today. The challenges that we face are very different from the challenges that those three men faced in 1964, but they are just as urgent. On campuses across the United States we must continue to register students to vote in order to give them a voice in their government. Off campus we must team up with other organizations to register voters in order to ensure that no person is unable to cast a ballot. We must also educate our fellow students on why voting is such an important right in order to empower them to return to their communities to do the same. Our nation was founded on the principle of self-governance. Only through hard work can we turn that principle into a reality.

About the Author: Ben Kaplan is a Sophomore at Tufts University majoring in Political Science and Economics. He is a passionate grassroots organizer who has fought to effect positive social change both on and off of the Tufts campus.  Ben will be one of three Vote Everywhere Ambassadors from Tufts University in 2014-2015.