By Representative Mike Honda
This Monday, on Constitution Day, it is alarming that the fundamental right to a vote -- the one that generations fought so hard to expand and protect, first with Amendment 15's Race No Bar to Vote, Amendment 19's Women's Suffrage, and Amendment 26's Voting Age -- is now under attack by the Republican Party. This is ironic given the Republican Party's constitution-centric platform.
The Republican attacks on these amendments, and their attacks on the Voting Rights Act of 1965, aim to cut the legs of citizenship from beneath us. Republicans are prohibiting access to the ballot for minorities, the elderly and young people who have been, and continue to be, historically disenfranchised.
We have fought these fights before, and it's shameful that we have to still fight for these rights today. But fight we will. If we can vote, then we must register. If we can share time, then we must volunteer. If you believe in preserving access to our democracy, then we must speak out.
As we celebrate this Constitution Day, we must be educating our citizens instead of road-blocking citizenship rights for which thousands have fought and died. We must be educating on pathways to citizenship, not restricting individuals from access to our democracy. Early voting, absentee ballots and in-language assistance are all key pillars of voting, and it is unfortunate that Democrats have to fight tooth and nail to retain them.
What happens after Constitution Day, however, must be at the heart of the matter. What happens on Tuesday? The future of our democracy depends on each individual understanding their rights and responsibilities as a member of a democratic society. No one political party can claim to be the defender of the Constitution; it is a responsibility for each and every citizen of the United States to be civically engaged. The future of our democracy depends upon it.
Even though Thomas Jefferson did not sign the Constitution, his words are timely on this day of observing this document, "Such a degree of learning (should be) given to every member of the society as will enable him to read, to judge and to vote understandingly on what is passing." I agree with Thomas Jefferson and believe that an excellent and equitable public school education for each and every child in the United States is the key to building a strong democracy.
Public school education, however, is not a mandated right according to the Constitution. The historical purpose of public school education was to build the foundation and underpinnings of civic society. Many education advocates see the purpose of public school education as an exclusive endeavor for job creation. While I see job creation as an important by-product of learning, I would also add that a vital component of public school education is the creation of an informed citizenry who will be able to think and vote in a democratic election.
Today, then, let's collectively as Americans -- no matter if we identify as Democrat, Republican, or Independent; atheist or religious; gay or straight; disabled or not -- remember, and never forget, the following mantra: We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. With this preamble, we adhere to the principles of our Founding Fathers and understand our individual and collective responsibilities in this great American democracy.
Representative Michael Honda is a member of the House Appropriations Committee and the House Budget Committee and represents Silicon Valley.