Hundreds gathered in Mitchell Park in San Luis Obispo on November 3rd to highlight the importance of voting ahead of Election Day, then marched to the San Luis Obispo County Clerk-Recorder to cast votes in the 2018 midterm election. Below are the transcripts of the inspiring speeches from the rally.
Andrea Chmelik, Women’s March SLO Lead
I was born in Czechoslovakia, a country that no longer exists, in 1979. At that time, the voter turnout in elections was 99.5%. There was only one party to vote for. Ballots were pre-printed with the names of candidates chosen to win. People who didn’t turn out to vote were blacklisted and punished, along with their families. Everyone voted. Yet for over four decades, nobody could speak their truth.
I came to the United States in 2002. I made new friends, built new relationships, embraced new culture and put down new roots. But no matter how invested in my new community, as an immigrant, I could not vote. I had to rely on those around me to make decisions about what ultimately was my life and my future. I got my citizenship in 2015. The 2016 presidential election was the first one I was eligible to participate in. And while the results were not what I was hoping to see, I knew with absolute certainty that I would never let anyone take my voice or my vote away again.
I often hear people – both here and back in my home country – say, “My vote doesn’t matter. My voice doesn’t matter. The system is bigger than I am.” But the system is what we make it to be. Yes – it’s far from perfect. It was handed to us as a patchwork of experiments, some successful and some complete failures. It has been and continues to be discriminatory. But we can’t wait until the system is perfect before we get engaged. If you are not the architect of your own destiny, you will end up living in a structure somebody else designed for you.
Back in Czechoslovakia, it was the voices of those who refused to be silenced that made a difference in the end. It was their resilience that ended totalitarian regime and restored democracy. Here in the United States, it must be every single one of us. If you are eligible to vote, you carry the responsibility to make the best possible decision for a bright and just future for everyone in your community. For those you love, but also for those you disagree with. For those who are your close friends and for those you’ve never met. For those who can cast their own votes, and for those who – for so many different reasons – cannot.
Vaclav Havel, Czech writer, dissident and the president of post-communist Czechoslovakia, once said, “Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.” Today, as we take part in our democracy and cast our votes, I am both hopeful and optimistic. The system won’t be perfect after this election, or the next. But making our voice and our vote heard makes sense, and we will continue our work regardless of how it turns out.
Rabbi Janice Mehring
I come here today grieving the loss of 11 people who were murdered last Saturday as they sat in synagogue praying. Murdered because they were Jewish. Murdered for their values of welcoming the stranger and caring for the less fortunate. Murdered for the belief that every human being regardless of religion, race, gender, identity is made b’tzelem Elohim – in the image of the highest we can imagine, the Divine. Therefore, we are all infinitely worthy, deserving of dignity, integrity, respect, and love.
It was just 14 months ago that I stood before thousands of people in Mission Plaza following the events in Charlottesville. On that day, three white supremacists sat outside a Reform synagogue with AK-47s as the Jewish community was inside at Shabbat worship services. Tragically, our fears on that day were realized in Pittsburgh. I said then that we knew the intention of those bigots – to protest diversity, to protest inclusivity, protest blacks, protest foreigners, and to protest Jews. And I said that we’ve seen this before and if left unchecked, we know where it leads. Last week, we saw where it leads. Anti-Semitism is on the rise, as is hateful rhetoric and action towards so many marginalized communities including people of color, Sikhs, Muslims, and the LGBTQ community. In addition to the 11 Jews killed at the Tree of Life synagogue, I grieve the loss of Maurice Stallard and Vicki Lee Jones who were also murdered last week. Murdered simply for being black. We grieve all who died by senseless violence as a result of blinding hate.
Every morning, Jews recite a prayer called Nisim B’Chol Yom- a prayer for “Daily Miracles.” We express our gratitude for many things, one of which is the gratitude for being free. As Jews, we don’t take for granted the tremendous gift of freedom. Being free means we are able to express our opinions and raise our voices and the best way we do that is by voting. To vote is to envision a world more whole. It is about optimism and hope that things can be better. And when we vote, we see ourselves as part of the solution and as God’s partners in bringing about
We must stand together in times of chaos not only to offer words of comfort or words of condemnation but to stand together to do the hard work of fighting for and healing our country.
In closing, I offer these words of prayerful healing that I offered 14 months ago:
Eloheinu v’elohei avoteinu v’imoteinu, Holy One of Blessing,
Hate has been visited upon our community and we are feeling afraid and vulnerable.
We pray that from our fear comes compassion so we can pursue justice not revenge, peace not more violence.
May we come together in common cause with all those who are oppressed and targeted. And may healing come from the brokenness.
May the memories of those who lost their lives be a blessing and may the shelter of Your peace spread over us and over all who dwell on earth.
And let us say, Amen.
Keanu Lyday, Activist
Why Voting Matters
Good afternoon everyone! And Thank you all for coming out to this great event and making your vote a priority.
I’d like to start by addressing what I’ve heard hundreds of people tell me, they say “I don’t bother voting because it doesn’t even matter, the person I vote for never wins, and even if they do, they don’t ever follow through on their promises” Well I want you to take a second and think about all of the other people who feel the same way- and realize, if everyone who felt that way came out and voted, the results would be much different.
If the hesitant voters took a chance, you’d be astonished at how much power you wield with your vote.
The very foundation of our great democratic republic is our duty and our right to vote. It’s how we keep the power in the hands of the American people.
That vote is what we use to ensure we have proper representation in all levels of government.
That vote…your vote…is how we keep our country running.
Then of course there’s always my grandma’s description, she says “if you don’t vote, you can’t complain”
The point is…If you want change, your vote is the easiest way to make it happen. Your vote is your voice…so use it as often and as loud as you can.
You’ve already made the first step by showing up here today, so let’s finish this election strong and vote.
I also have a message for the young people listening here today.
We’ve been through a lot recently haven’t we? From experiencing gun violence, having our educational goals hang in the balance, to transitioning into what is called “the real world”.
But here is my challenge for you:
If you’ve been posting online about the power of our generation, now it’s time to put those words into action and show up. Show them just how influential and strong we are. Don’t be passive, because come time, the culmination of everything you so proudly fought for will need to come to fruition…with your vote.
That time has come.
Today and the next few days, our communities and our country rely on your commitment.
This year, we have the power to shift our country’s entire political norm. Do not be discouraged. Be inspired because your vote does matter and your vote will have an impact.
Through these recent difficult times we’ve proven that when the young people show up, the world listens, and we get things done, so let’s not make voting any different.
Impact Of This Election
The past couple of years have been some of the most divisive our country has ever seen. It happens across the the United States, but even right here in our own backyards we see racism, bigotry, hate, and ignorance become things that we witness and experience on a regular basis.
This needs to stop.
This election is our chance to correct ourselves and get off this dangerous path we’ve been on.
Let’s get to a place where things like civility, respect, understanding, and morality are expected and not things we have to fight so hard for.
Look, we all know that our country is more divided right now then it has been in a very long time. But here’s the very candid truth: whichever area you fall under on the political spectrum, voting season is our chance to to vote for the people and measures that we believe in. So if you want your fair representation, you gotta vote, plain and simple.
It doesn’t matter who you vote for, what matters is that you take advantage of the power you’ve been given to get the representation that you deserve.