To­day’s vote will shape to­mor­row

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - E.R. Shipp E.R. Shipp, a Pulitzer Prize win­ner for com­men­tary, is the jour­nal­ist in res­i­dence at Mor­gan State Univer­sity’s School of Global Jour­nal­ism and Com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Her col­umn runs ev­ery other Wed­nes­day. Email:

Usu­ally when I vote, as I did on Mon­day, I take with me my an­ces­tors — men who, for a brief pe­riod of time in Ge­or­gia af­ter the Civil War, were granted the right that more than any other de­fines what be­ing Amer­i­can is all about. And then it was snatched away from them and their descen­dants un­til well into the 20th cen­tury. Not un­til pas­sage of the Vot­ing Rights Act of 1965, nearly 100 years af­ter blacks first voted in Ge­or­gia, was this power to par­tic­i­pate in the democ­racy made real again. Then, if not en­tirely yanked away, it was jeop­ar­dized by a re­cent Supreme Court de­ci­sion.

As Elec­tion Day ap­proached, I knew I’d carry with me the an­ces­tors and a kind of fore­bod­ing that they must have known in the late 1860s. I did not count on tak­ing with me a new cit­i­zen, a Mus­lim Amer­i­can who em­i­grated from Pakistan nine years ago. Go­ing to the poll with him, and wit­ness­ing his in­de­scrib­able joy at cast­ing a vote for pres­i­dent for the first time, re­newed my own sag­ging en­thu­si­asm.

Let me tell you about Qa­mar, who will turn 40 in De­cem­ber. He came to this coun­try “for a bet­ter fu­ture” af­ter hav­ing stud­ied psy­chol­ogy in col­lege and work­ing in his fa­ther’s leather busi­ness. He has been driv­ing a taxi for about five months; that’s how we met. I was a fare, and we struck up a con­ver­sa­tion about vot­ing. He asked if he could ac­com­pany me when I planned to go, and on Mon­day he gladly gave up an hour or so of earn­ing fares to join a record-set­ting num­ber of Mary­lan­ders who are vot­ing early.

“I’m mak­ing my mem­ory. Oh, wow!” he ex­claimed as he stood in line out­side the ad­min­is­tra­tion building at Tow­son Univer­sity

He passed the cit­i­zen­ship test with a score of 92 per­cent, he said, af­ter study­ing two hours a day for about four weeks, with his land­lady quizzing him on ques­tions from the study guide. He lived in South Carolina then and went alone to a fed­eral of­fice in Greer, S.C., to take the oath of cit­i­zen­ship with other re­cent im­mi­grants. “I feel hon­ored be­ing a Mus­lim U.S. cit­i­zen,” he told me en route to the poll. “I obey the Con­sti­tu­tion. I obey the law. And now this is the time when I’m go­ing to play my role.”

Qa­mar notes that he en­tered the U.S. legally, be­came a per­ma­nent res­i­dent and then a cit­i­zen. Oth­ers should also fol­low the rules, he said. “Please come the le­gal way. Keep try­ing. Don’t jump the [line], but never give up. Come into this land, the land of op­por­tu­nity.”

Like many of his friends, he said, he has found the po­lit­i­cal process in the U.S. and else­where in the world to be dis­taste­ful at times.

“I want to stay away from that mess,” he said. He has been telling peo­ple that they don’t have to get caught up in party politics. “I’m not vot­ing for [a] party. I am pick­ing a pres­i­dent of the United States un­der the Con­sti­tu­tion.”

He re­jected Don­ald Trump. “One rea­son, how he runs his mouth. Sec­ond, he has no po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence. Sim­ple.” And Hil­lary Clin­ton? “She might make mis­takes in her life, but she’s got po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence. That’s what we need.”

For sure, scan­dal-mon­ger­ing and downin-the-gut­ter pol­i­tick­ing make peo­ple want to steer clear of the process as much as any voter sup­pres­sion we have wit­nessed in U.S. his­tory, in­clud­ing the an­tics of the KKK of old. But show up we must — and in his­toric num­bers. De­spite the ro­bust turnout so far, I am still hear­ing peo­ple say they are not sure they’ll vote.

Qa­mar was prac­ti­cally giddy af­ter he sub­mit­ted his bal­lot to the scan­ning ma­chine that read it and made his vote of­fi­cial. Those lofty words about free­dom and equal­ity had mean­ing now — and poll work­ers even thanked him for vot­ing. The ef­fort was much more valu­able, he said, than the money he would have earned work­ing in­stead.

Ul­ti­mately vot­ing is not solely for our im­me­di­ate self-in­ter­est but for the fu­ture we want to shape. Qa­mar hopes to bring his wife, their son and per­haps his par­ents to live in the U.S. in a year or so. He looks for­ward to the day his 5-month-old son can cast a vote for pres­i­dent — per­haps in 2036. In ad­di­tion to price­less mem­o­ries, Qa­mar left the poll with a “FU­TURE VOTER” sticker for his son.

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