The beauty of living to be my age and still having clear vision is that it allows me to look back and see how far we’ve come. Yet even if we live to be 100, we can scarcely perceive the magnitude of our progress as a country.
But North Carolina, I tell you: we have progressed.
I once debated with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. about whether an African American would ever be elected president. He believed it would happen within the next 40 years at the time; I believed it would never happen within my lifetime. I have never been happier to have been proven wrong.
And since Barack Obama’s historic election, under unforgiving economic circumstances and in the face of the unyielding opposition once in office, we have made remarkable progress as a country, together.
He rescued our economy from a depression and is leading us toward greater shared prosperity. He expanded educational opportunity for our students, from Head Start investments to Pell Grant scholarships. For women, he is leveling the playing field in the pay we receive for the work we do, and protecting our rights to make health-care decisions that are right for us. And he kept his promise to provide every family with access to quality, affordable health insurance, including the 1.5 million North Carolinians who are currently uninsured.
But as Rev. King wrote, “all progress is precarious.” The progress made by one president can be easily rolled back by the next. And that means voting is not just important. It is imperative.
In 2008, we helped President Obama win North Carolina by just 14,000 votes — just five votes per precinct. Every one of us can think of five people whose vote could have meant the difference. And believe it or not, this year will be even closer. So there is no time for complacency. We must make our voices heard.
Just imagine waking up the day after the election, knowing that you did not register and did not vote and the progress we’ve made slipped through our fingertips. You’d kick yourself. You’d bang your head against the wall. Let me spare you that self-admonition.
The good news is that you don’t have to wait until Election Day to vote. From Oct. 18 until Nov. 3, early vote locations will be open across North Carolina. During that time, you can register to vote and cast your ballot all in the same place on the same day. Early voting is that simple and convenient. And once you vote, you can focus on getting your friends and family and neighbors to the polls, always going back and ushering another to the ballot. That is how progress is made.
But if you can’t vote early, make sure you still vote on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 6, when polls will be open across the state from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Just visit Vote.BarackObama.com for all the information you need about where, when and how to vote.
And when you fill out that ballot, remember it is because of our right to vote that we’ve seen such a magnitude of progress in our country.
We are here in direct relation to the heroes and she-roes who paid with their lives for this right. Many of us are old enough to remember what it felt like to be told we could not register to vote without taking a test or paying a poll tax. Some were asked how many angels danced on a head of a pin, how many bubbles were in a bar of soap.
We are here because four courageous college freshmen sat down at a lunch counter in Greensboro in 1960, four years before the passage of the Civil Rights Act, to make a stand for equality. It’s a terrible thing to obstruct access to the ballot. But we follow all those who had the courage to dare to live so we can dare to live. Because of them, we are here.
So vote to keep moving us forward. And carry with you your friends, family and neighbors. Carry them from your congregations, your beauty salons and barbershops, your sororities and fraternities. Carry with you those five people whose vote could make the difference.
You may be pretty or plain, heavy or thin, gay or straight, poor or rich. But nobody has more votes than you. All human beings are more equal to each other than they are unequal. And voting is the great equalizer.
It is important. It is imperative. There is no time for complacency.
Maya Angelou is a poet and activist who lives in