Voting and Praying –by Jinny Batterson
(This is a slightly edited version of a short talk I gave at a historically black Raleigh church about this time last year. It seems just as relevant this year. Please register; please pay attention to local races; please vote…)
Thank you for allowing me to speak at your church service today and to provide a voter registration and information table in the fellowship hall after the service. I’m here as your guest, a relatively recent arrival in North Carolina, a member of a local congregation that was formed well after yours. It’s likely I don’t need to tell you about the importance of voter registration and voting—your congregation has been battling for voting rights since before I was born. Still, I want to reinforce your efforts by sharing with you parts of two people’s stories: our current multi-racial American president, and my North Carolina grandmother.
Barack Obama’s 2008 book, “The Audacity of Hope,” is a combination political strategy manual and personal story, stressing the importance of aiming high and staying hopeful. Mr. Obama’s example can help to counteract creeping cynicism, a disease even more damaging than most of our other addictions and afflictions. In this book, he reminds us: “At the core of the American experience are a set of ideals that continue to stir our collective conscience… (We hold) the belief that Americans feel a sense of mutual obligation toward one another.” In my car is a small sticker from the 2008 presidential campaign, with the president’s profile and the caption, “Got hope?” Hope, though hard to measure, is vitally important.
My other story is of my father’s mother. She was born in North Carolina in 1879 and raised on a farm near Charlotte. To me, she was Grandma. She’d married an Ohio-bred Yankee and moved first west, then north to Maryland, where she lived when I was born. She died before I turned 5. It was only after I moved to North Carolina that I heard more of her story from elderly cousins here: how fast she could harness up a horse and plow; how she was book-smart, as well, distinguishing herself in studies at then State Normal and Industrial College in Greensboro; how she ran a small farm during the 1930’s Great Depression, providing both food and income for her family.
Grandma also worked hard to help women achieve the right to vote. When she was 41 years old, that right became law in the United States. Grandma drilled into all her children (who, in turn, drilled into her grandchildren) that voting was important, a responsibility as well as a right. In my politically diverse family, there are few issues we agree on, but we all register, and we all vote. Grandma’s spirit would haunt us big time if we didn’t.
Please forgive me for closing with a religious analogy: registering and voting are a little like prayer. They might not change our situation in the short term, but, in a very basic way, they change us. They remind us that we matter. They strengthen us for the sometimes lengthy struggles to make other needed changes.