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ERNIE BROWN JR. Don't pass up your chance to make a difference



Published: Sat, November 3, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Our son, Kevin, recently had a homework assignment to write a report on his pet peeves.

It didn't take me long to come up with one of my own. It aggravates me when people fail to register to vote or don't vote.

And it really upsets me when blacks and Hispanics fail to avail themselves of one of our country's most basic and important rights.

As the U.S. Supreme Court observed, "No right is more precious in a free country than that of having a voice in the election of those who make the laws under which, as good citizens, we must live."

Child of '60s: I am a child of the turbulent 1960s, when America was nearly ripped to shreds over the two-headed monster of racism and war.

Black people were marching and rioting on the streets in an attempt to rid themselves of second-class citizenship. The war in Vietnam was escalating, and 18-year-olds, who at the time did not have the right to vote, were deemed old enough by our government to be drafted for the Vietnam War.

In fact, it wasn't until the 26th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified July 1, 1971, that 18-year-olds got the right to vote.

Among the images forever fixed in my mind was the sight of German shepherds being let loose on blacks in the South for attempting to vote. Black people were met at the polls in Mississippi by armed white police officers stopping them from casting their ballots.

In Selma, Ala., blacks were killed for having the gall to exercise a right guaranteed to all other Americans by our Constitution.

Never miss voting: That's why I have never missed an opportunity to vote.

Failing to register to vote, or not voting, is a slap in the face to those who gave their lives to secure the suffrage rights for all black Americans.

I tire of the apathetic attitudes of some blacks and Hispanics who say voting doesn't make a difference or who continue saying their vote doesn't count.

Black voters in Florida were angry about their disenfranchisement last year.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights determined many low-income voters were either denied the right to vote or had their votes rejected in the 2000 presidential election.

"This disenfranchisement of Florida voters fell most harshly on the shoulders of African Americans," the commission wrote to the president and the speaker of the House of Representatives. "Statewide, based on county-level statistical estimates, African American voters were nearly 10 times more likely than white voters to have their ballots rejected in the November 2000 election."

If the votes of thousands of black people had been counted in Florida, perhaps this country would have elected a different president.

Important races: There are some important races in Tuesday's election that cry out for attention from black and Hispanic voters.

The future of Youngstown's school district is on the line as voters will elect board members to oversee the $163.5 million in state and local funds to refurbish school buildings and build new ones. Several candidates are black and one is Puerto Rican.

Will the city's only black judge, incumbent Robert Douglas, be retained or will his challenger, Atty. Jeffrey Limbian, take over? Your vote, or lack thereof, will answer that question.

If you are registered and moved in the past 30 days, but forgot to notify the elections board, you can still vote Tuesday. Call the board Monday for the specific details and also check on where your polling place and precinct are (polling places in Youngstown, Poland and Struthers were changed before the May primary).

Times: Polls are open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in Ohio.

If you need a ride to the polls, call the Youngstown NAACP, Youngstown Area Urban League, or Organizacion Civica y Cultural Hispana Americana. Those agencies will direct you to church vans on the East, South and North sides of the city that will be available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Your vote does count, but only if you use it. Maintaining the status quo is crazy if you have a chance to make a difference.

Tavis Smiley, the black broadcaster and author, defines insanity as "doing the same thing, the same way, and expecting a different result."

Voting is a tool we have at our disposal to change the result. As the Nike commercial says: Just do it.

ebrown@vindy.com




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