SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

October 12, 2012

Column: Carpe diem

Tammy A. Callanan
The Salem News

---- — As usual, it is early morning as I sit sipping my morning coffee and writing my newest blog post. For me, as well as many others, sleep is not always either a luxury or an option. Solution — to nap whenever I may get the opportunity to do so. Somehow I have survived 40-plus years, and as usual, once the early news stations begin their broadcasts, I click to my station of choice.

As Americans, we are a nation of choices; choices so plentiful they not only shape who we are, but shape our lives: how we think, our ideals, our wants, our needs and especially how our government, whether local, state or federal, dictates the majority of beliefs that we have. Yet, who dictates which candidate will win an election and which candidate will lose an election? Any and all registered American citizens over the age of 18 who choose to have a voice. A voice that is certainly influenced by just some of the forms of media, such as: mass mailings, social networking, political shows, the news, debates and multitudes of television ads that can inundate your insomnia-driven mind while you are attempting to focus on your program of choice, a focus that even the ancients were subjected to as citizens in their own way.

Though the ancient Greeks may not have had the technology that we have today, they did believe in the meaning of the word democracy. Their citizens used broken pieces of pottery, which was both plentiful and inexpensive, in order to scratch their candidate’s name to vote. This was to pave the way to what appears to be the first use of paper to cast a ballot in Rome 139 B.C. And in 1789, America’s first election for president took place, and George Washington was later sworn into office, making history. It is a history that has been great and a history that has been tainted. However, voting is a history that has survived through bloodshed, sacrifices, experimentation and constitutional amendments. As Americans, we have earned the right to exercise our freedom — freedom of choice and freedom of voice.

Before the American Revolution, it used to be that the English king had much say in who was typically appointed for certain offices. In 1787, the passage of the U.S. Constitution gave white male property owners age 21 and over the right to vote. Acts were later conceived from 1807-1843 that changed requirements that all white men age 21 and over could vote regardless of property ownership. After the Civil War in 1870, the 15th Amendment guaranteed the right to vote to all men age 21 and older regardless of race, ethnicity and economic background. It was not until 1920 that women, through the 19th Amendment, won the right to vote, as well.

However, many states and their officials regularly prevented blacks and other minorities from either registering to vote or from being able to cast their ballots through the use of tests, clauses and especially intimidation tactics. It was not until 1965 that the Voting Rights Act allowed the federal government to take over areas while enforcing provisions previously guaranteed in the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments that were conceived originally almost a century earlier. In 1971, the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age across the nation to the age of 18.

Lastly, another important year within our voting history is 1982, when the Voting Rights Act gave us further provisions for disabled Americans and those not able to read, write or speak English. Laws were enacted to extend to all of us the ability to have a say. Blood was shed, and sacrifices were made to give us as individuals, as a community and as a nation choices. Over the years, those choices have declined because of lower voter turnout, interest or belief that their voice does not matter. Well, all voices do matter regardless of gender, race, ethnicity or even economic background. Nov. 6 is the presidential election, along with ballots for other governmental candidates who will be making the decisions for us when they take office; there are also important ballot questions.

My advice, whether you agree or do not agree, is carpe diem; get out and seize the day — seize that moment to make history by knowing that your voice does matter.

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Tammy A. Callanan is a lifelong Salem resident.