I began my weekend by talking to Mike Meno, communications director of ACLU of North Carolina, about voter suppression laws in North Carolina. Recently, a federal court overturned a law in North Carolina that would have restricted early voting, eliminated in-class registration for high school student and put in place stringent ID requirements to vote. The court ruled against the law because it they found it to be targeted at minorities. Unfortunately, many counties in North Carolina have still taken steps to suppress voting amongst African-American and Latino voters. While I was in North Carolina, early voting was already under way. The early voters I spoke with expressed gratitude the law was overturned, granting them the chance to vote. When voting is implemented and regulated fairly it is the greatest tool we as the American people poses to shape public policy. Our vote gifts each of us with the opportunity to to choose who represents us in office. If that tool were not valuable, people would not have spent decades fighting, and even dying, to protect it. After listening to North Carolina voters speak about their vote with such gravity, I think it is impossible for me to take voting for granted.

Unfortunately, in a state like North Carolina, where the right to vote has not always been protected, people must use other strategies to shape policy. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend an art exhibit and performance by a group of reproductive justice activists while in Charlotte. They touched on issues ranging from sexual assault, to environmental racism and policy brutality. They expressed frustration that the politicians running for office are not even discussing the issues they care about. In their case, voting was simply a way to keep the situation from deteriorating They viewed their activism as far more effective at pressing for change. When you are hoping to impact policy in a radical way, voting is often not enough. At the Levine Museum of the New South I met with Staff Historian Brenda Tindal. She explained Charlotte’s long history of social protests to me, beginning with sit-ins during the anti-segregation era. For those locked out of the voting system, it is not an effective way to shape public policy — it is not even a way to shape it. Today, people in North Carolina are still fighting for the right to make their voice, and their vote, heard. When all Americans have an equal opportunity to vote, it will be a powerful weapon to wield against injustice. But until then, it is only an effective tool for the fortunate.

-Lily Nellans