Op-ed: Casting a vote in Portage County must become easier, not harder

By John Kennedy

The following is the speech delivered by John Kennedy at the Jan. 6 vigil sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Kent, the Portage County NAACP and the Kent Interfaith Alliance for Racial Reconciliation and Justice.

Let us start with what today is not about.

Today is NOT a day to commemorate the angry, violent mob that attacked our nation’s capitol a year ago, a violent assault on the people and the democratic institutions we elect them to serve as our representatives of.

Today is NOT a day to commemorate the hate and the darkness that inspired, organized and fomented the violence we witnessed on that terrible day a year ago.

We are NOT here, on this cold evening, to celebrate ANY of the actions that led to and culminated in the shocking — yet not surprising — violent attempt to overthrow a valid, fair and hard fought election.

No, we ARE here, on this cold evening, to show solidarity with one another — to stand hand in hand with all of you, with the Kent Interfaith Alliance for Racial Reconciliation and Justice (KIFA), the Kent League of Women Voters, with Portage NAACP, and with our entire beloved community (as our president Dr. Geraldine Nelson would say). We are here to say with one clear voice that we stand together, and that the forces of light and goodness and faith are strong enough to overcome any and all who breed dissent, distrust and destruction — destruction not just of buildings, but of the sacred bonds that unite all of us.

For today is a day of remembrance and unified action — no, we won’t ever forget what happened on Jan. 6, 2021 — but now, let us pivot beyond that awful event and concentrate our efforts and set our sights on the path forward, one paved with truth, and one that leads to justice for all.

With that in mind, let’s unify and rally behind these truths which we know to be self-evident but are truths we nonetheless need to say out-loud from time to time: that we support the inalienable human right to be recognized as full and complete human beings, regardless of skin color, religious belief, or who we choose to love; that we support the right to vote for all, and that efforts to thwart, deter, intimidate or deny that sacred right to cast a vote is not only repugnant, but immoral and wrong; and that we will work together, in solidarity, to push our neighbors, our communities, and those we elect to public office to see greater voter access and enfranchisement as the end goal we should be fighting for — NOT voter suppression and disenfranchisement. Or as our Portage NAACP president Dr. Nelson recently said, we should be striving to make casting a ballot in our elections easier, not more difficult.

But the push to deny the franchise and suppress voter turnout is happening all across the country. More than 400 bills to restrict voting — 400! — have been introduced across the country to date, and 30 of those have already become law in 19 states. And as many of you know, there are efforts underway in our great state of Ohio to make it harder to vote, especially in our Black and brown communities.

Throwing up our hands will not suffice, not anymore. We need you. Your community, your county, your state and country needs you to be engaged, now more than ever. That is our call to action on this cold January day, and we won’t get there without you. So please join us — become a member of Portage County NAACP, KIFA, and the League of Women Voters. We have folks here tonight who will help sign you up, so please take this opportunity to do so.

I don’t make guarantees about much in this crazy world, but please know this. We are in this together and we will get there, in solidarity, together. Thank you for coming out on a cold, January evening to commemorate this: our collective pledge to stand up, whenever you see injustice; to speak out, whenever you see it; and to take action to bring an end to it.

Because justice requires our participation. And democracy dies without it.

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