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Opinion: Cast Your Vote and Assert the Power of Ballots Over Bullies

by on October 29, 2020 5:00 AM

Election Day is Tuesday and while millions of Americans have already voted, millions more will stand in line to vote on Tuesday. As that day approaches, we’re seeing threats and warnings of confrontation and even violence at polling places. So what should we do?

VOTE. Threats of violence? Armed “poll-watchers”? People in power publicly trying to discredit the voting process?

This is not who we are America. We will not be deterred.

VOTE. If democracy is religion, Election Day is our holy day and voting the sacred rite (and right) for the faithful. The right to vote came with immense cost to the men and women who paid the price to ensure it. 

And why do we have such a long and tortuous history with voting rights in this country? Because at its basic core voting is the great equalizer. My vote is no more and no less important than anyone else’s. 

Some people resent that equality. Now, as many of those same people see change in the demographics of the American electorate, there is resistance to that change. 

But the days of voter suppression must not return. The days of violent clashes because of politics must be banished forever. But that threat is once again emerging from the dark places where shadowy conspiracy theories fuel distrust in the system, in the institutions of our nation. 

A national security threat to our future is coming through social media disinformation, fueled by foreign forces using these tools to divide us against one another. And what should we do about it?

VOTE. Vote peacefully. Vote for what you believe and allow others to vote for what they believe. Accept the results.

If your candidate wins, be gracious, extend a hand to work with others and do not spike the ball in the end zone. That fuels resentment and distrust. 

If your candidate loses, accept the results but stay active and engaged. Active resistance did not suddenly occur after the 2016 election. Anyone thinking that forgets the Tea Party demonstrations, birther conspiracies and the vocal and in-your-face opposition at town hall meetings around the country.

VOTE. Stand your ground because voting is the ultimate act of non-violent change. 

Those working to suppress the vote hoping to intimidate others forget that Americans do not scare easily. 

The right to vote was won by the blood spilled by brave men in our nation’s war for independence. But the founders erred when they limited the right to vote and denied millions freedom from slavery.

A violent Civil War ended slavery and opened the vote to others. And yet, from those first moments, men in power sought to limit or deny those rights. Decades later women won the hard-fought battle to get their right to vote. 

The men and women who marched in the Civil Rights movement to ensure their voting rights were met with firehoses, gas, clubs and attack dogs. But it went even further. They were shot, killed, lynched and had their homes and churches firebombed.

But they stood firm in the face of violence. We owe it to them to vote.

Now in 2020 we are seeing the seeds of voter denial and suppression bearing their bitter fruit again. And those seeds took root in the feeble-minded who anchor their world view in the gossip and narratives that they find to confirm their deep-seated biases. 

VOTE. This election we must turn out in numbers to show the world that we are home to the world’s freest and fairest elections. We must demonstrate to hostile foreign powers that their attempts to damage the credibility of our democracy are no match for the will of our people. Their attempts at social media psychological warfare must fail.

And as you vote, think of…..

The endless rows of white gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery.

The young black men and women beaten because they dared to ask for the rights promised to them by their government.

The three young men killed in rural Mississippi because they dared to register people to vote. Think of the fear that must have run through their minds, the disbelief that this could be happening in America.

As you vote, think of…….

The men pointing toward a distant shooter while Dr. Martin Luther King lay struck by an assassin’s bullet.

The humble busboy holding Robert F. Kennedy as he lay stricken by a gunshot.

The men marching with tiki torches in Charlottesville, the car running through a crowd of people protesting hate and division.

The bullets ripping through an El Paso Wal-Mart, or a nightclub in Orlando because someone learned to hate people who were different.

The shooting in a synagogue in Pittsburgh or a church in Charleston, houses of worship and love ripped apart by hatred’s violence.

Never forget that hatred, intimidation and voter suppression must have no place in our America, and neither do voter disinformation and distraction. Your vote creates a nation where we banish those things. 

VOTE. Imagine your vote as the way to assert the power of ballots over bullies and bullets. Make your voice roar from mountaintops across rivers, lakes and prairies reaching from sea to shining sea. Your voice speaks truth to power and demands that power speaks truth to us.

VOTE. Let no one turn you away. 

State College native and Penn State graduate Jay Paterno is a father, husband and political volunteer. He’s a frequent guest lecturer on campus and at Penn State events and was the longtime quarterbacks coach for the Nittany Lions. His column appears every other Thursday. Follow him on Twitter at
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