Austin R. Cooper Jr.Columnists

COOPER: Vote Like Your Life Depends on It — Because It Does

Throughout his life, my father, the late Father Austin R. Cooper Sr., was a proponent of the importance of voting. As a young Episcopal priest in the early 1960s, he participated in protests at segregated pools in Miami. While the rector of a parish in Dallas, he was fired by the bishop of the diocese for registering parishioners to vote and leading literacy classes. He became a founder of the Union of Black Episcopalians (UBE). The union was formed by African American priests in 1968 to combat rampant racism in the Episcopal Church. Later, while the rector of Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland, Dad served as the president of the Cleveland branch of the NAACP.

During his tenure, he led the organization through the controversial period of court-mandated busing to desegregate public schools. Death threats over the phone and in the mail were common and came with frequency. I vividly remember as a teenager answering the phone and hearing death threats against not only Dad’s life, but that of my family. I recall picking up the mail and learning to immediately recognize letters containing death threats. They were easy to identify the because the anonymous authors displayed their ignorance and illiteracy with misspelled words on the envelope as well as in the often profanity-laced letters.

On a summer evening in July 1978, shots were fired by the Ku Klux Klan into a living room window in our home. Luckily, my father, who was in the living room at the time, was not injured or killed. Thankfully, nor were my mom, sisters or I injured. The assassination attempt on Dad did not make him shrink from his commitment and dedication to civil rights. Rather, it made him stronger and he fought discrimination and encouraged African Americans to vote in each and every election, at the federal, state and local levels of government, with every breath in his body for the remainder of his life. In life, he instilled in my mom, sisters and me the duty of voting. In his death, we continue to exercise our constitutional responsibility.

At the very core of a democracy is not only the right to vote, but also, and perhaps more important, exercising that right. Indeed, voting rights are under attack nationwide as states pass voter suppression laws. These laws led to significant burdens for eligible voters trying to exercise their most basic constitutional right.

Since 2008, for example, states across the country have passed measures to make it harder for African Americans exercise their fundamental right to cast a ballot. These measures include cuts to early voting, voter ID laws and purges of voting rolls. Traditionally, it has always been Republicans suppressing votes. In December, Justin Clark, a reelection adviser to President Donald Trump, was caught on video in Wisconsin saying that the GOP has “traditionally” relied on voter suppression to compete in battleground states.

African Americans, particularly women, have always been the most loyal base of the Democratic Party. If you doubt our power, when united, consider the recent contests on Super Tuesday. African American voters across eight states captured in exit polls for former Vice President Joe Biden once again provided decisive wins for him. Indeed, he won double-digit victories in 10 of the 13 contested states. Without our vote, and the endorsement of House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, Biden would not have had the victories he did and would no longer be in the race.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, then-candidate Donald Trump posed the question to African Americans, “What do you have to lose?” What do we have to lose next November? A president who has been endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan, saw “good people on both sides” in Charlottesville, is committed to weakening —not strengthening — voting rights, believes he is above the law, appoints ultra-right-wing conservatives to the U.S. Supreme Court and judiciary, made 16,241 false or misleading claims, is embarrassed to claim proficiency as an accomplished epidemiologist or U.S. Surgeon General while simultaneously mismanaging the government’s response to the coronavirus, and has not proven knowledgeable, compassionate or humane for even one day of his presidency.

In commemorating Bloody Sunday, Rep. John Lewis stated, “Fifty-five years ago today, we were beaten, tear gassed and trampled by horses. I thought I saw death. I thought I was going to die. I don’t know how I made it back, but I know we cannot rest. We cannot become weary.”

Vote like your life depends on it, because it does!

Cooper is president of Cooper Strategic Affairs, Inc.

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