His wheelchair barely fit. It was motorized, but the torn leather from its seat showed its age. The small storefront in a shopping center in Liberty City, Miami was over-flowing with people, so he sat near the door as his wheelchair had little space to move. Quietly, he sat, throughout the whole meeting. People spoke about jobs, healthcare, poverty, crime, immigration and the other hot-topic issues of election twenty twelve. This was the grand-opening of the Obama field office in one of the poorest neighborhoods of all of Miami and Russell Simmons (my boss) was there to greet the volunteers, staff and potential voters. Every single person in the room was black (except me). Every single person in the room was going to vote for Barack Obama. The man in the wheelchair finally spoke. He wasn’t voting for Barack. He was the only one.
In a thick Caribbean accent, he explained. Locked up for a small amount of drugs in the ’70s, he lost his right to vote. Only spending a few years in prison, he was no longer eligible to cast a ballot for any election. He was young. He made mistakes, he said. But, he turned his life around and has worked an honest job ever since. Today, in his mid 60s, he looked frail. He looked sick. His wheelchair was evidence of that. But, his sickness did not stop him from trying to vote for the first time in his life. An accomplishment he achieved in 2008, when the law changed and allowed him to vote for the first black President of the United States, Barack Obama. I felt like a human being for the first time in my life. His words quieted the room.
Silence. The room went silent. Silent out of respect for the words that were just spoken. A man in his 60s who never felt human? Many in the room could relate, as they shook their heads up and down as if they understood. Instead, I wiped my eyes of the tears that had formed, as I had absolutely no comprehension of this part of the American reality. These conversations don’t happen in rooms full of White people. This is not the reality of White America. Reality bit this old man again when in 2012, under Republican leadership, the law in Florida changed again and his right to vote was taken from him again. He was silent. Made silent. Put back on the back of the bus. Wheelchair de-motorized. His pursuit of liberty, roadblocked.
But he would carry on. Door to door, he would ride around with a clipboard in hand encouraging members of his community to vote for Barack Obama. He would not lose the race of life, even if his own personal liberty was lost in Liberty City. They cheered for him when he was done speaking. They patted him on the back. The old ladies rubbed his bald head. Russell gave him an honorary Yankees hat. He was a champion for how America should be. A nation that forgives those who have made mistakes and welcomes them back into society after they have been punished. One nation, indivisible, with liberty for all.
Unfortunately, the other side does not see it this way. It is a sad state in America when one Presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, believes that the less number of people who vote, the better chance he has of winning the election. While Barack Obama has encouraged everyone to vote, regardless of who you are voting for, Mitt Romney and his money-hungry homeboys have done everything they can to reduce the voting population. They would rather put sticks in the tires of the old man’s wheelchair, then let him ride free. And they have done this not just to him, but to millions of people around this country. Like bullies in the schoolyard, intimidating the younger kids with threats and sucker punches.
So, there is only one way to combat this despicable treatment of our fellow Americans and that is that anyone who can vote, needs to vote! If you have this right, remember the old man in the wheelchair who would do anything to feel human again. Do not sit this one out. Early voting has begun in many states across the country and people are waiting in line to do what the old man can only dream of. If we will wait in line for hours for iPhones and Jordans, then we must get in line to vote. The old man’s pursuit for our happiness should be rewarded by us showing up to the polls in the record numbers and letting “Money” Mitt know that the White House is not for sale. He may have more money than we do, but he doesn’t have the power to stop us now. We will ride for Obama until the wheels of the wheelchair fall off…
If you need more information on where to vote and how to vote, go to: www.gottavote.com
Michael Skolnik is the Editor-In-Chief of GlobalGrind.com and the political director to Russell Simmons. Prior to this, Michael was an award-winning filmmaker. Follow him on twitter @MichaelSkolnik