'You must vote'

I have to say it: You must vote.

I have to say it because when issues like health care are on the ballot, it actually means life or death to some. I have to say it because those who came before me and struggled and put it all on the line for our right to vote would be ashamed if I wasn’t being absolutely direct. I have to say it, even though as a black woman in 2018, I have barely the time or energy left to explain why it’s so important to exercise your right to vote.

You must vote.

The right to vote is fundamental to preserving our dignity as humans. Don’t let anyone take your dignity away. Fifty years after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. our vote should also serve as tribute and to pay homage.

Voting is an act of service. Now I’m not naïve; I understand that being engaged as a voter these days can be draining and seemingly hopeless at times. I understand that it can be hard, because of unnecessary obstacles in the system and in our daily lives. I feel it, too. Yet, I always vote.

The truth is that our engagement as voters must continue beyond Election Day. And when we do engage year-round we’ve made tremendous progress on some issues. For instance, I’m sitting here today, a woman happily married to my wife. Voters made that happen because organizing and voting does work. We also know that having spaces that are existence-affirming, empowering and energizing are vital to being in this for the long haul and the important work of organizing.

Baltimore Women United, which I co-chair, is part of a long tradition of women organizing to create spaces that are intersectional and welcoming and family friendly; they affirm our values, empower women and allow then, regardless of zip codes and backgrounds, to join in solidarity, practice civil discourse and unite to oppose those people and policies that wish to take any of us backward. This year we’re going to vote, but we’re also going to energize ourselves and lift each other up for the hard work that still remains after the election.

This Saturday, Oct. 27, Baltimore Women United will be hosting an early voting “Rally and March on the Polls.” The rally kicks-off at 11 a.m. at St. Bartholomew’s Church on Edmondson Avenue and will feature our own Sen. Barbara Mikulski, actress Sonja Sohn, City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby and activists Giuliana Valencia, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings and Zainab Chaudry, along with a community of women from across Baltimore city and county. We’ll show unity as we march together to the Westside Skills Center early voting site to exercise our right and duty to vote. Afterward, we’ll join our sisters at Slay the Vote for a resource fair. Women from Baltimore County can also come rally and then vote at a county early voting site nearby. If you’re not registered yet, that’s fine too; you can register there.If you’ve had an interaction with the criminal justice system, you can come vote, too, as long as you are not currently in jail serving out a sentence.

We do have a lot of decisions to make in Maryland this election. There’s a race for governor, every local state representative position is on the ballot, a U.S Senate seat and every congressional seat is being decided. We have decisions to make on ballot questions pertaining to casino money and how we fund our schools. We have to decide if Maryland joins others states in permitting same-day voter registration on Election Day, Nov. 6. In Baltimore, we get to vote on whether we keep our water public for all and not subject this important utility to profit-seeking corporations like Flint, Mich., did.

Women of all colors and backgrounds, this is the year to come together and March on the Polls. Let’s vote, form supportive communities, fight every single day, refuse to let up when injustice is happening and come through when we’re needed. We’re needed now. Let’s commit to keep supporting each other and fighting for justice for as long as needed.

Early voting starts Thursday, Oct. 25 and runs through Thursday, Nov. 1 from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 6, and the polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. The real work begins on Wednesday, Nov. 7th. Stay tuned for Women’s March 2019.

Denise Gilmore (denisegilmore21@gmail.com) is the co-chair of Baltimore Women United.

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