We must cherish our right to vote

For so many Americans, voting is more than a civic duty – it’s a moral imperative

Muchos latinos dijeron que estaban motivados para votar debido a los mensajes racistas de Donald Trump.
Muchos latinos dijeron que estaban motivados para votar debido a los mensajes racistas de Donald Trump.
Foto: Aurelia Ventura / Impremedia/La Opinion

The founder of the Society of Friends, George Fox, has a phrase that’s always guided my spiritual life: “Walk cheerfully over the earth, answering that of God in everyone.”

In other words: Always remember that everyone you meet is walking their own path alongside you, and deserves your attention and respect.

Growing up, my parents lived by that creed. My dad ran a small ironworking business. He would always tell me that his skill would put his worker’s kids through school. And in turn, their work would pay for my brothers and me to get an education of our own. My folks taught me the importance of looking out for each other, and demonstrated that faith, family, and hard work were a surefire path to a fulfilling life.

That belief in the power of compassion was nurtured by my teachers at Rockhurst High School in Kansas City – a Jesuit institution where our motto was “Men for Others.” We were taught to derive our own sense of spiritual well-being by helping those in need.

It was strengthened when I was a first-year student at Harvard Law School. Feeling unsure of my direction, I heard a “still small voice” in my head, telling me to look beyond the world I had become used to. And before long, I was on my way to volunteer with missionaries in El Progreso, Honduras.

Back in 1980, Honduras was one of the poorest countries in the Americas – but the people of the country overwhelmed me with their hospitality and spirit. In return, I put the metalworking skills I learned working at my dad’s shop to good use at the Instituto Tecnico Loyola, teaching 70 kids about welding and carpentry.

The kids were teenagers like any others, full of energy and dreams. But they lived under a military dictatorship, where they couldn’t choose their own leaders. That created a system that only worked well for a few people at the very top, and where everyone else was left behind. My friends even prayed for the day when they could claim their own right to vote.

It’s hard to take voting for granted after that.

When I returned home, I was inspired to devote my life to expanding social justice and voting rights. And after law school, I knew I wanted to pursue public service and work with my community – to hear how they needed help, and try to make whatever difference I could.

Those values have guided me during my 17 years as a civil rights attorney, as a city councilman and mayor in Richmond, and as Governor and Senator.

And as a member of the Clinton-Kaine ticket, they guide me still. Hillary and I have a plan to institute universal, automatic voter registration at the age of 18. And we’ll stand up to attempts to restrict voting rights in states all across the country.

For so many Americans, voting is more than a civic duty – it’s a moral imperative. It’s what will let us keep making progress on our ongoing journey towards equality and opportunity for all.

That’s why we must stand up for immigrant rights. Hillary Clinton and I will finally pass comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship. We’ll fix the family visa backlog, and defend DACA and DAPA. We should be doing everything we can to keep families together – not creating a “deportation nation” and breaking them apart.

We must listen to Latinos and African Americans when they explain how our nation has failed to fulfill its mission. And let’s respond by working to end the epidemic of gun violence, and to root out the systemic bias that still plagues our broken criminal justice system.

And we must never give into the scapegoating, demagoguery, and empty promises that Donald Trump has offered in this race.

Hillary and I will never sacrifice our most fundamental values. America, after all, is not a place that bans religions; it’s a place that welcomes all people, regardless of their backgrounds.

It was a Latin American Jesuit, Pope Francis, who laid out this challenge for all of us: “a ser islas de misericordia en medio del mar de la indiferencia” — to be islands of mercy in the midst of a sea of indifference.

In this election, we all have the chance to prove His Holiness right. We can show the world that America is still a haven of compassion. Even as the tides of indifference appear strong – if enough of us pull together, we’ll soon watch those waters recede.