MARTI CROW: Exercise you right and vote

Marti Crow
Marti Crow

You may not have been able to watch the coverage on television of the funeral for John Lewis. I did. It isn’t very often in my life that I have been able to hear the words of four past U.S. presidents, three in person. The funeral was held in the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church where Rev. Martin Luther King grew up and became a pastor.

The congressman was a member of the church. Lewis, who served 17 terms as a congressman from Georgia, died July 17 at age 80 from pancreatic cancer. George W. Bush said that Congressman Lewis boycotted his first inaugural, and often vehemently disagreed with Bush policies. He said, “John and I had our disagreements, of course. But in the America John Lewis fought for and the America I believe in, differences of opinion are inevitable elements and evidence of democracy in action. … We live in a better and nobler country today because of John Lewis and his abiding faith in the power of God, in the power of democracy and in the power of love to lift us all to a higher ground.”

Bush said that the lesson for all of us from Lewis’ life is “we must all keep ourselves … open to hearing the call of love, the call of service and a call to sacrifice for others.”

Congressman Lewis was remembered for being the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington at age 23 and was a marcher on Bloody Sunday in Selma, badly beaten by state troopers. He was one of the 13 original Freedom Riders at age 21 and was assaulted by adversaries in South Carolina. Their mission was to protest segregation in interstate bus and rail stations.

Former President Jimmy Carter sent a message to be read at the funeral, remembering the congressman as a neighbor, friend and representative.

Former President Bill Clinton celebrated John Lewis’ “uncanny ability to heal troubled waters.” He pointed out that Lewis did not try to “cancel” his adversaries, but rather to convert them.

“He thought the open hand was better than the clenched fist,” said Clinton, who also made reference to an op-ed published in the New York Times written by Lewis. Written two days prior to his death to be published on the day of Lewis’ funeral, Lewis calls for Americans to “answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe.”

Clinton said that the congressman left us our marching orders. “Keep moving.”

Former President Barack Obama provided the eulogy for John Lewis, recalling that he and Lewis spoke following George Floyd’s death late in May.

“(Lewis) could not have been prouder to see this new generation of activists standing up for freedom and equality,” said Obama. He told Lewis that those young people, of every race and every religion, from every background and gender and sexual orientation, “are your children. They learned from your example, even if they didn’t know it.”

Obama called on the country to be “vigilant against the darker currents of U.S. history … whirlpools of violence and hatred and despair that can always rise again.”

John Lewis was a fighter for voting rights his entire adult life. On July 27, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to rename the Voting Rights Bill, H.R. 4 the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

Obama took the opportunity during the eulogy to speak against ongoing efforts to stifle voting.

“There are those in power,” he said, “who are doing their damnedest to discourage people from voting by closing polling places and targeting minorities and students with restrictive ID laws and attacking our voting rights with surgical precision, even undermining the postal service in the run up to an election. It’s going to be dependent on mail-in ballots so people won’t get sick.”

I hope you will honor the memory of freedom fighters like Congressman Lewis. You must register to vote by Oct. 13. You can check on the clerk’s website to see if you are registered. You need to reregister if you move or change your name by marriage or divorce. If you haven’t already done so, apply for an advance ballot for the November election. It is easy to do and you won’t have to worry about long lines or getting sick.

No reason need be given for voting by mail. Go to the Leavenworth County website, click on Elections Information, which will take you to the page for County Clerk Janet Klasinski. Click Advance Voting in the blue square on the left side of her page and go down to Advance Voting by Mail Forms. Click “For the November General Election” and you will see a form you can print out. You can also request an advanced ballot application at the clerk’s office in the County Courthouse or by mail. Either way, you will need to show or mail a copy of your valid driver’s license or other photographic identification documents. Your application must be received at the clerk’s office before 5 p.m. on the Tuesday prior to the election. This year, that would be by Oct. 27, but do not wait until the last minute. Submit your application soon. If you get your application in early, you will get your ballot about 20 days prior to Election Day, around Oct. 14.

Whether you leisurely fill out your ballot in the safety and comfort of your own home or go to the polls, vote. Your completed advance ballot may be dropped in the mail, without need for postage, or you can drop it into a ballot receptacle in the south parking lot at the Courthouse. You can also deliver the ballot to the Election Office or to any polling place in the county by 7 p.m. on Election Day. Ballots may not be faxed. Please plan ahead so you receive your ballot in plenty of time to meet the deadlines.

As John Lewis wrote, “Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the beloved community, a nation and world society at peace with itself. … Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent we have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it. Let’s keep moving.”

Marti Crow is a Leavenworth Times columnist.