The other day I had a conversation with Bishop Michael Mitchell, president of the Council of Bishops of the AME Church. I was so inspired to hear that his denomination had set a lofty but achievable goal for itself. The AMEs intend to have 75% of their members cast their votes before Nov. 3.
Shortly after our conversation, I thought why shouldn’t all of our denominations and other organizations follow suit. I do believe that voting early and in person would be impactful. We should follow all of the CDC’s guidelines to protect ourselves from the coronavirus, but voting early and in person will not only have a powerful impact on the outcome of this election, it will also determine whether or not the process will be deemed legitimate.
For me, personally, the election is a time to re-examine priorities, a chance to ponder the larger questions about American democracy and why it is of paramount importance that we protect it in this country. In other words, a passionate patriotism has taken center stage in my thinking.
You see, since my youth, I have wanted to follow the incredible example of those civil rights warriors who put everything on the line to advance Black people’s progress toward first-class citizenship in a country that we fought for, died for and struggled to enrich. Even with all the injustices that we have encountered as a people, we have known all along that our fate is inextricably intertwined with America’s fate.
We excoriated Thomas Jefferson for his duplicity in writing that “All men were created equal” while he, himself, held human beings in bondage. But if we had widened the lens of our understanding and placed Jefferson’s words in a broader historical context, we would have really seen that what he and the other founding fathers did – whether intentional or not – was to create a standard for governance. They spoke into existence the words of the founding documents: the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. These documents continue to serve as a framework and a foundation for the creation of a more perfect union.
In other words, like the awe-inspiring evolutionary process put in place by the Architect of Creation, our founding fathers catalyzed what is today still a work in progress. Our national motto: E pluribus unum (out of many, one) may well have found its origins in the teachings of Jesus Christ of Nazareth who said: “That all may be one.” OUR ROOTS HAVE GROWN DEEPER IN AMERICAN SOIL!
Other than the Native American, no other group suffered as sacrificial lambs on the altar of America’s economic success as did Americans of African descent. And yet , as recent incidents of police brutality so vividly remind us, we are still not “a more perfect Union.”
However, to claim that African Americans should not be filled with patriotism is to ignore the progress – though hard won – that we have experienced on these North American shores. If you would do a quick study of the public record , it would soon be apparent why African Americans continue to give so much to make this “a more perfect Union.”
From Crispus Attucks' role in the Revolutionary War, to the slaves‘ enlistment in the Union army during the Civil War, to the ferocious fighting of the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II, down to the game-changing impact of Black Lives Matter, we have seen the need to believe in the possibility of “a more perfect union."
Also, there are well-documented instances where our faith in America’s founding creed have produced real, tangible results. The following list is not meant to be exhaustive but to merely reinforce the idea that “this is worth fighting for.”
The signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln to free the slaves.
The U.S. Supreme Court evolved from 1893 Plessy vs. Ferguson (separate-but-equal accommodations) to the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, decision that ruled that separate was inherently unequal.
The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s led by the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. climaxed with the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968.
Forty years later, America elected an African American to the highest office in the land. Yes, this social experiment, e pluribus unum, is worth fighting for.
So during the next three weeks, I will temporarily shift my perennial, parochial passion for advancing Black people in America to an absolute devotion to helping serve this great American democracy. For with all its imperfections, America is still the greatest hope on the planet for perfecting e pluribus unun.
So please contact everyone you know, regardless of race, creed, color or place of national origin (if they are now U.S. citizens) and implore them to vote in person before Election Day.
It is not hyperbole to say that what is happening in our country is an existential threat to American democracy. This is still “a government of the people, by the people and for the people” and with God’s help, it “shall not perish from this Earth"!
Michael Grant is former president of the National Bankers Association and former president of the Nashville Chapter of the NAACP.