In America, the right to vote is supposed to be sacred. And the ability to cast a vote for your candidate — free from interference or intimidation — is part of the fabric of our country. Yet, since our country’s founding, there have been countless barriers preventing Black Americans from exercising their rights. Sadly, the 2020 election is shaping up to be no different.
The passing of civil rights legends C.T. Vivian and Congressman John Lewis are stark reminders of the battles fought and the sacrifices made to ensure that no one is denied the right to vote. Along with countless others, they marched, bled, and died to push America to live up to the ideals in its founding documents. While their efforts brought about monumental change, there are still far too many Black Americans who cannot freely exercise those rights.
Today, as we mark National Black Voter Day, we must remember and honor every person who sacrificed so much in this fight. And we all have a responsibility to pick up the mantle and do everything we can to remove barriers to voting. At Lyft, Black Americans drive with us and are among the communities we serve, so as a company, we share in that responsibility. And this year, we’ve already started to act.
For decades, millions of Black Americans had to face the indignity of laws being enacted and decisions made without their voice being heard. Poll taxes, grandfather clauses, counting the number of jelly beans in a jar, and other forms of voter suppression met the Black community at every turn.
That suppression lives on in new but equally harmful forms. Systemic barriers to voting are real and pervasive, whether they are voter ID laws, long lines at majority Black polling locations, disinformation campaigns, the purging of voter rolls, or impediments to voting safely during a pandemic. Any barrier to voting is at odds with our very democracy.
RELATED: ELECTION 2020: Black America's Vote
In 2016, we know that voter suppression laws cost Americans their voices at the polls. States that were once governed by the Voting Rights Act passed laws to restrict voting rights and voter access. Several states with significant Black and Latino populations closed polling places in those specific communities. Alongside systemic issues, transportation to the polls continues to be a significant barrier.
During the 2018 U.S. election, Lyft supported hundreds of thousands of people with voter registration and rides to the polls. This year, thanks to our nearly 20 nonprofit partners we're able to expand our Voting Access program efforts and offer even more voters with access to free rides to the polls.
In his last words before his death in July, Congressman John Lewis wrote, “Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.”
Every American deserves the right to choose their own destiny and it begins at the ballot box. Whether by mask or mail, we are all part of this democracy — especially those of us who come from historically marginalized and disenfranchised communities. So, make your voting plan. Talk to your friends, family and neighbors and figure out how you are going to vote whether early, day of, or via the mail. And if you’re voting in person, know that Lyft is working to help get you and your community where you need to be.
There are only 46 days left until the presidential election. The ability for every American, regardless of politics, to participate in the nation’s most sacred democratic duty is too important for transportation to be a deterrence.
Heather Foster is the Senior Director of Public Engagement and Strategic Partnerships at Lyft, where she leads the strategy, planning and engagement of elected officials and third party stakeholders. Heather is a subject matter expert on race and public policy, having worked closely with civil rights groups and organizations focused on equity, economic mobility, and transportation. Heather served in the Obama administration as White House Public Engagement Advisor and served as a direct liaison to African American leaders navigating complex issues on race and policy.
Photo: Chance Yeh/Getty Images for A+E