Seniors share lessons about voting
Every election season triggers a spectrum of emotions. Some of us close the curtain of the voting booth filled with hope and excitement, while others approach their ballots with skepticism and frustration. Some will give in to apathy and indifference, skipping voting altogether. The 2022 mid-term election will be no different.
SOWN’s participants – women ranging in age from 50s to 90s – took time to share their perspectives on voting. Some are native to the Philadelphia area or other parts of the Northeast, while others grew up in the South. Most identify as Black or African American. The diversity in their personal experiences brought forth rich conversations about performing this civic duty.
For several African American participants, exercising the right to vote is a sacred act of respect for every Black person impacted by slavery and racist systems in our country. Cynthia shared, “Being 80 years old and African American, it means a lot for me to vote. Just thinking about what my ancestors went through, to now have the privilege and right to vote.”
Ora, who was raised in the South, responded to Cynthia. “I am so overcome with what Cynthia said. I have the same type of background. The reason why we wanted to vote is because we could not vote in Georgia. We had to fight and stand up, and march and pray in order to be able to vote.”
Considering the brutalization so many Black people suffered in their pursuit of freedom and equality, E.W. stated “I look back and see how my ancestors struggled for the right to vote; even giving their lives. It would be a slap in the face to them to not vote.”
Mobility and transportation issues can present challenges for some older adults, but the women in our conversations expressed commitment to filling out their ballots – and wanting to vote in person. Toni commented, “I don’t think I’ve ever missed voting. Sometimes I need other people to take me and wheel me in…I lean on my son to help get me there.”
SOWN social worker Debby Davis holds a strong memory of an older adult who would never skip her chance to vote. “In one of my other groups, we had a woman who was 100 years old. She didn’t want to do a mail-in ballot when it was suggested to her. She said, ‘NO! I’m going in person.’ She grew up in the South. She was so proud to go in person and cast her vote. She has passed on, but whenever there is an election, I think of her.”
In addition to their commitment to voting, some SOWN participants dedicated time volunteering at the polls to help other voters. Longtime SOWN volunteer co-facilitator Linda Marucci shared her experience supporting her candidate of choice, campaigning for a presidential race. “When I was a young hippie back in the 70s, I went all out for [George] McGovern and he only won in one state.” A participant chimed in, laughing, “And not even in his own state! That was sad.” Marucci laughed, too. “But that’s how you live and learn.”
When reflecting on their personal voting histories, participants shared the elections that made lasting impressions on them. Participants recalled JFK, Jimmy Carter, and Lyndon B. Johnson winning the presidential election. One participant noted, “We don’t hear about Johnson a lot, but he was one of the ones who really brought voting freedom to everybody.”
Another participant shared her childhood memory of the FDR’s election to the presidency. “I remember my parents voting for him. They were able to buy a farm because of him. He seemed like just the greatest thing in the world because of that. There was segregation that we didn’t really know about from him, but he gave Black people the chance to buy farmland for cheap, both Black and White. It was a real opportunity for Black people.”
For other Black women in our discussion, they expressed that voting for Barack Obama for President was undeniably powerful.
“It meant so much to me when we had our first African American president,” Cynthia recalled as the thought of the struggle Black people have endured to secure fair voting rights. Jackie G told us that she worked on Obama’s campaign early on, feeling inspired by his positive attitude. B.P. shared, “When I voted for President Obama, it felt so good. We were set aside for so long. With his election, I knew we were as important as anyone.”
The women all agreed: every vote counts and every vote matters. They will see you at the polls this November.
ABOUT SOWN The Supportive Older Womens Network serves grandparent-headed families, caregivers for loved ones, and vulnerable older adults in the Greater Philadelphia region. A grassroots news partner with WHYY/N.I.C.E.
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This column was written by Lori Latimer, SOWN’s Director of Programs. Read last month’s column here.