By Kate Chance
On this day, 53 years ago, Jonathan Daniels died while fighting for civil rights. Not for himself, but for others.
Jon Daniels was a white, 26-year-old man pursuing a career as an Episcopalian priest. He worked to integrate Episcopal churches, and heeded Dr. King’s call to join the march from Selma to Montgomery. His passion for equality led to his arrest during a voting rights march in Fort Deposit, Alabama. Soon after his release from jail, Daniels, along with a Catholic priest and two black teenagers went to a store to buy soda and were confronted by a part-time deputy sheriff. The man pointed a shotgun directly at sixteen year-old Ruby Sales, Daniels pushed Ruby to the ground to protect her. Jonathan Daniels was shot and killed instantly.
As a fellow 26-year-old, white, Episcopalian with a graduate degree in religious studies, the legacy of Jon Daniels deeply resonates with me. Much like Jon, social justice is a key component of my life and faith and has guided my career path, which led me to work with the Southern Poverty Law Center.
No matter what we’re passionate about, we have the same opportunities to change our world for the better as Jon Daniels strived to do 53 years ago.
Today, many young people are passionate about social justice. We share our views on social media, attend rallies, volunteer, but one thing we fail to do time and time again is to voice our opinions through the most democratic method of all—voting.
Even though voting is the clearest and most direct way to influence our democracy, young voters, as a group, show little interest in elections—especially midterm elections. Pew Research Center reports that in the 2014 midterms only 22% of eligible millennials voted, which was a record-low year for turnout. These numbers are inconsistent with the millions of young Americans who are passionate about creating change in our nation.
In honor of the life and legacy of Jon Daniels, vote every opportunity you get. It’s not enough to only vote in presidential elections. We must help shape politics as a whole to create a nation which reflects our vision of tomorrow, both locally and nationally.
Every election is dependent on your participation. Every judge, legislator, senator, congressman, mayor, school board member or city official in power has a tremendous impact on our communities and thus our nation. These elected officials are the ones who will shape and influence the future of our community, and we must have a say in the matter. We must vote accordingly.