Georgia's Senate runoffs mean too much for my family not to vote

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The election this January determines whether or not we wake up to suffering or relief. Our vote is our chance to turn things around.

I grew up in the 1960s, in a very civic-minded Black family. We talked politics at the table, and my grandparents and dad encouraged us to research the candidates before each election. Long before we were of voting age, we knew about the importance of casting a ballot.

That's how I've raised my kids and how they have raised my grandkids. I have six grown children: a teacher, a soldier, an account rep for a credit card firm, a nurse, a heavy equipment operator, and a college student. My husband is a disabled veteran. For the November election, I made sure they all voted.

Over and over again, I asked my friends, and even strangers, if they voted. I made sure the procrastinators in my family got it done, and they paid it forward: One of my sons even drove his friend four hours to vote in neighboring Tennessee. My community is too important to go unheard.

When I saw the election turnout, with all the people voting and lined up in the rain to do so, I had the audacity to hope. I thought, maybe this can make a difference.

When counting the results, national news anchors kept mentioning Fulton County — my county. I realized just how impactful each of our votes had been. Georgia's turnout made history and reshaped the presidential election.

But now I hear from people in all walks of life that they're just tired. They feel like their votes will not count in the Senate runoff on Jan. 5. I tell them that in this election, just like the last one, every vote counts. Too much is at stake. We have too much to do to get weary now.

We start every day in fear. My husband and I have health conditions that make us especially vulnerable to the coronavirus.

One of my sons is a teacher and is now required to teach in person, without proper protections. He has high blood pressure and heart issues. If something happens to him, there's nothing in place to make sure he'll continue to get paid. This is the fear of a lot of our educators. People want their children back in classrooms, but at what risk? Our teachers are already overworked, under-appreciated, and underpaid.

A young woman who is like a daughter to me works as a respiratory technician and still doesn't have enough PPE. The health care workers are exhausted. We're expected to go about our day, but we have no other choice but to go about it in fear.

We're a family of survivors but it's stressful, and it shouldn't be this stressful. We paid our taxes, and our government should proactively lead us through this.

Our leaders have power in the Senate. They should enact policies that deliver the help Georgians and other Americans need, like PPE, economic relief, and job protections.

We need our leaders to condemn those instigating violence and distrust against people following science. Some are protesting public health guidelines with assault rifles. They refuse to wear masks in schools and stores because they don't have to at political rallies.

I can compare this time to the racial disparity of the early and mid-1960s. Back then, I witnessed a white man throw dog feces at my family. I saw a Black man fire a shot into the air right after to let them know he wasn't afraid of them. My grandfather used to hold a rifle when he sat on his front porch at night.

In the '70s, I thought wow, life might get better. Integration started. But now, we're going backward. I feel like I need to protect my family and my community. Black workers bagging groceries and waiting tables can't control maskless customers. We're dying from COVID-19 at almost 1.5 times the rate of white people.

Every morning I wake up wondering "what now?" Was there a political rally that will turn out to be another superspreader event? Was there another white supremacist march? It's just too much.

Just like other times in my life, people in my community are hurting and too many of our leaders don't seem to care at all. Mortgage protection is expiring, and more Georgians are about to be homeless.

My husband and I are blessed to have a roof over our heads and food on the table. But yes, another stimulus check could really help.

The election this January determines whether or not we wake up to suffering or relief. Our vote is our chance to turn things around. What our leaders do today will decide the future of our children and grandchildren. The ballot box is where we get to hold those leaders accountable.

After November's election, I know now more than ever just how much my vote counts. I plan to phonebank, mail postcards, and text all the Georgians I can so they know how much their votes mean, too.

Cynthia Kendrick grew up in a civic-minded Black family in the South during the civil rights era. She has resided in Georgia for almost three decades and now lives with her husband in East Point. Her six grown children and grandchildren live nearby.