University of St. Thomas President Rob Vischer gave the following remarks to attendees of the "Symposium on Voting Rights: Our Past, Our Present, Our Future" that was held on the St. Thomas campus on Feb. 1, kicking off Black History Month.
This year, we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, and as we come up on another election cycle that promises to be deeply contentious, it is more important than ever to protect the right to vote, to maintain and strengthen the infrastructure of our democracy.
Let me offer just a brief word to students who may be joining this conversation. You’ve grown up in a time when it’s tempting to see the debate over voting rights as simply another dimension of our exhausting partisan divide. Of course there can be partisan aspects to these debates, but a concern the ability to participate fully and freely in our elections should not be a partisan topic. It is a topic of pressing concern to anyone committed to building what Dr. King called the beloved community.
Dr. King wrote frequently about human dignity, not as some abstract concept, but as a lived reality that compels us to recognize one another as subjects in relationship. He relentlessly championed the notion that “[t]he self cannot be self without other selves,” and I cannot reach fulfillment without you.
Seen in this light, King’s call to justice was about more than lifting up the marginalized and oppressed; it was about healing the relationships that are broken by marginalization and oppression.
If we hope to engage one another in relationship, as subjects bearing the inescapable dignity as children of God, it must begin with recognizing one another’s rights as full, free, and equal participants in the shared work of democracy.
That’s why this conversation matters, and why it should matter no matter where you fall on the political spectrum.