With thanks to Tomoko Ella Hotema (seen here with her family) whose commentary was first published on Big Island Now.
Reposted here with her permission and the permission of the publisher.
COVID-19 should make all of us ask if we are fulfilling our civic responsibilities, and in particular, if we are ready to exercise our right to vote in this most consequential election year. Here’s why. The pandemic has stirred up many issues. People are in a panic, afraid of the uncertainties, and worried about the lack of a vigorous and thoughtful response from our leaders. Many are reading everything that pops up on their social media and being bombarded by too much scary information. This is causing chaos and confusion. Our daily fears and anxieties have grown.
As if the pandemic alone was not enough, there is an increase in violence, both racial and domestic. COVID-19 has become a magnifying glass spotlighting the essential human rights issues that we are still being forced to fight for or defend.
We have all seen the reports of horrifying assaults and murders of African American people just going about their business. Laws are applied differently depending on the color of one’s skin, and people’s rights have been ripped away from under cover of the pandemic. Here in Hawaiʻi, the domestic violence rate has gone up since the lock-down, and many women and children are being traumatized every single day.
There is also once again animosity towards Asians and Asian Americans as COVID-19 was referred to as the “Chinese” virus. People are hiding behind Freedom of Speech to justify incendiary language, and racism is, once again, rearing its ugly head.
How can we claim America is a free country when freedom is tied to being of a certain race, social class, and gender? How can we let this pandemic set us back even further than we already were? This is 2020, and we are still fighting for the same rights people died for decades ago. We are repeating the past instead of learning from it.
It’s time to strengthen our democracy: Pass AVR.
The fact that we have to worry about the state of our democracy today, that we have to explain to our children that people are being violated, some even murdered, for having a particular skin color, that minorities continue to be short-changed, should be gravely concerning to every American. Other countries are taking care of their people, and we must demand our leaders do the same. They need to do better by everyone, no matter the skin color, social status, or gender.
One of the most potent instruments we can use to ensure good leadership is the vote. In this 100th-anniversary of women’s suffrage, is it too much to ask our lawmakers to pass Automatic Voter Registration (AVR)? AVR would make it easier, less time-consuming, and less costly for women and minorities and those in rural communities to vote. When they go to renew their driver’s license or get a state ID, their information is electronically transmitted to the Office of Elections, unless they opt-out.
AVR would help ensure that everyone’s vote counts. In this age of social media and advanced technology, where we can pay for groceries and deposit checks with our phones, AVR should be a no-brainer.
There was virtually no opposition to AVR. Lawmakers say they are getting back to work. There is much to be done, and they are being paid to do it. If students can study and teachers can teach remotely, lawmakers can do their job remotely and make AVR and other pressing issues, like providing a living wage, a reality. This needs to happen now. Time is running out, and people’s lives are at stake. We can wait no longer.
Check your voter registration at https://olvr.hawaii.gov to be sure you get your ballot in the mail. This year Hawaii goes to all Vote By Mail. Tell a friend. Help a kupuna. We all need to vote. The primary is August 8. All votes need to be mailed in by August 8. Voter service centers are few and far between. So act now!
Tomoko Ella Hotema is a Masters in Counseling Psychology candidate at Chaminade University. She is a mother of three, who also advocates for various social and economic justice issues.
Leave a Reply