Staten Island’s Parkhill neighborhood was the site of an event on Saturday to commemorate one of the seminal events in United States history – the 1965 March from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. The original participants in the march led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King were protesting to implement the passage of probably the most important acts of legislation – the 1965 Voting Rights Act signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
With the tensions stemming from the incidents of 2014 still strong, the anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery March of 1965 provided a point to begin the New Year with fresh perspective as well as act as a benchmark for measurement. As a nation we have made progress on issues of race yet there are still many miles to travel.
Perhaps no other issue stirs emotions like the right to vote. At the same time there has been increased concern in the last few years, first because some of the provisions of the Voting Rights Act were declared fulfilled and second, there has been a push to require potential voters to produce some form of identification.
With all of these issues in mind, activist groups and individuals have been concerned with the level of voting in the United States. While voting in most world nations is steady at about 70% of eligible citizens, the USA can point to a rate of 60% in Presidential voting years and 40% otherwise. This demonstrates that voter apathy is alive and well . Many community organizations well as national groups like the NAACP have made the goal of increasing voter turnout a central plank of their platform.
Saturday’s event began in Stapleton and marchers then traveled to Borough Hall across from the St. George Ferry Terminal. The guest of honor was Rev. Dr. George McClain, who attended the march in 1965.
Speaker after speaker, both activist as well as elected politicians, reiterated the central theme of the day. Those citizens eligible to vote must register and cast their ballots on an ongoing basis. The event followed a recent speech by President Barack Obama in which he stated that perhaps the USA might consider mandatory voting.
With the upcoming special election for U.S. Representative to replace Michael Grimm, the candidates for office as well as their supporters were much in evidence. Green Party Candidate, James Lane, made his presence known and spent time informing the local residents of his concern that voters must participate in the May 5th election to begin a process of change on the island.
The event closed with speeches by groups representing the young people of Staten Island. These leaders and activists certainly proved that apathy can be stopped and reduced. With motivated young people like these, the future of the borough certainly seems to be in good hands.