Citizen participation in the electoral process Is key to our democracy | Opinion

October 15, 2020 6:30 am

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By Jim Kenney

Active citizen participation is the foundation of our democracy and regardless of your political views, the upcoming Nov. 3 general election is not the time to sit on the sidelines – you still have until Oct. 19, 2020 to register to vote in the upcoming fall Presidential election.

You can also vote early now at one of our satellite election offices spread throughout the city. Seven are open now and another 10 will be opening over the next two weeks. It’s all pretty easy, safe and really convenient. No need to wait in long lines at your polling place on Election Day — unless you still want to vote in person at your polling place.

That’s okay. – but if you want to vote early now — go to to get the list of our satellite election offices — or apply on-line for a Vote-By-Mail absentee ballot.

Whatever works best for you – just make sure you’re registered to vote by October 19, 2020 – and remember — the right to vote was never a guarantee for many Americans – especially women, the poor and Black Americans who were routinely forced to confront barriers erected to hinder and obstruct them from voting.

Black Americans who tried to vote in the Jim Crow South were intimidated, fired from their jobs, beaten, killed, – and their families were threatened with violence or harmed in any number of physical and economic ways.

There were poll taxes and literacy and property tests put in place to stop poor whites and Black people from voting. Black people who couldn’t read and didn’t own any property were only permitted to vote if their father or grandfather had voted before 1867, when virtually no Black people were allowed to vote.

More recent purges of voter rolls have disproportionately impacted Black and other poor minority voters. Some states have made it difficult if not impossible for formerly incarcerated people to vote. And more recently we have heard talk of an ugly resurgence of Election Day ballot security task forces — targeting minority communities throughout the country.

Election 2020: Your guide to voting in Pennsylvania

The struggle for the right of Black Americans to vote in this country has many heroes, but none more pertinent to Philadelphia and our history than Octavius V. Catto,  a 32-year-old Black educator, Civil War Army veteran and civil rights activist who was gunned down on Oct. 10, 1871 at the corner of 7th & South Streets while urging recently freed Blacks to vote.

Catto lived and taught school in the heart of Philadelphia’s then growing Black and immigrant neighborhoods — bounded by Spruce and South Streets on the north and south — and running from 7th Street on the east to the Schuylkill River on the west – an area having the city’s largest concentration of Black residents at the time.

According to V. Chapman-Smith, public historian: “Catto’s greatest legacy is his work towards ratification of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, which outlawed slavery, guaranteed citizenship and equal protection under the law and the right to vote — all of which reframed what it means to be an American and laid the foundation for the work of those who came after him – including Ida B. Wells, Thurgood Marshall and Martin Luther King.”

I was honored to work with Ms. Chapman-Smith and other dedicated Philadelphians to erect the Catto Memorial on the rim of City Hall in September of 2017:  “The memorial is more than simply a lasting tribute to an extraordinary individual; it is a symbol of an aspirational America,” that continues its on-going struggle to attain Catto’s vision of full equality and participation for all in the American dream.

Pennsylvania General Election 2020: Your guide to the Nov. 3 presidential and statewide elections

Catto’s life and his legacy of hard work and sacrifice for Black American equality must never be forgotten. In his honor we must ensure that all who can vote – do vote — and that we encourage all Americans – regardless of their political persuasion – to participate in our upcoming electoral process.

I would urge you to make sure you are registered to vote and that you participate in the upcoming general election and cast your vote for whomever you think will best lead our nation in the coming years.

Every voice must be heard and every eligible citizen must be registered to vote and have their vote counted in the Nov. 3 general election – so don’t delay – register now by going to and then decide how you want to vote; Vote early at any of our 17 satellite election offices; Apply to vote by mail now or wait and show up at your polling place on Election Day.

Whatever you decide, stay healthy, be safe and God bless you and your families.

A Democrat, Jim Kenney is the elected mayor of Philadelphia. 

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