Gabriella Akes: ‘I am voting for voting rights’ and so much more

  • Northampton City Clerk Pamela L. Powers stands next to the new drop-off box in front of City Hall on Sept. 23, 2020. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING


Published: 10/26/2020 3:47:41 PM

Around noon a few weeks ago, I received a frantic call from my dad. I don’t get calls from him often, so I thought something was terribly wrong. I was relieved to find out he had called not because of a family emergency, but because he wanted to check in about my absentee ballot status. I reassured him that I would receive my ballot, and, once I did, I would notify him.

But I wasn’t 100% confident in my answer. I have known people, including my roommate from California, who requested absentee ballots from their home state only for it never to find its way to their new or temporary address. Problems with absentee voting are only one of many voting issues materializing around this election.

Over the past few weeks alone, we have seen ongoing efforts to diminish the validity of mail-in voting, which is a crucial part of keeping millions of Americans safe during this pandemic. We continue to see the consequences of our archaic and exclusionary system consistently disenfranchising more and more voters, specifically voters of color and youth voters. I have been learning more about such problems during an internship I have been participating in this fall with Students for Justice, an initiative through the nonpartisan group Reclaim Our Vote. Students for Justice reaches out to marginalized voters, specifically communities of color, in order to spread voter awareness.

A few weeks ago, as I was in a meeting for Students for Justice, I heard my mailbox open. When I went to retrieve my mail, I took a deep sigh of relief realizing that it was my absentee ballot. I’m incredibly lucky to have received it, as I continue to hear stories of heightening voter suppression. Yet our system should work without any luck necessary, and I understand the urge to feel politically cynical.

This election continues to polarize the American people, and I often feel excluded from the voting process as a young person. We need to recognize that it’s upcoming generations who will face the catastrophic ramifications of this pandemic and election, as well as issues stemming from climate change, economic instability and social inequality. Our own democracy is and has been under attack! It is imperative that we show up to the polls to cast our ballot to build a better future. Especially those of us who have the privilege and access to the institution of voting. We must participate in this election before it’s too late.

It is critical that we show up for the countless congressional and local elections occurring simultaneously. Several states will also have key propositions on their ballot as well; in Massachusetts, Question 2 seeks to incorporate ranked-choice voting in local elections. We must remember that in order to start changing our dysfunctional system, we must and can begin at the bottom. We must remember we are not just voting for ourselves.

I am not just voting for myself. I am voting for the rights of my family, who are immigrants, working-class people and DACA recipients. I am voting for communities that have been systematically kept out of our political process. I am voting for LGBTQ rights and Indigenous rights. I am voting for our Earth. I am voting for affordable and accessible health care. I am voting for elections in the future. I am voting for voting rights. In order to demand and create effective change, in order for our democracy to persist, we must exercise our right to vote.

Students for Justice mentee Gabriella Akes, originally from New Jersey, is a senior majoring in government at Smith College.

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