“[A right to vote] enables all Americans, most especially those who have been denied other rights, to participate fully in their community, this country and our world,” said Maria Gitin, the Keynote speaker at King County’s 28th annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration, held on Thursday, January 15, at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle.
Gitin joined the civil rights movement in 1965 at the age of 19 to work for the Summer Community Organization and Political Education (SCOPE) to help register African American voters in Wilcox, Alabama.
The theme of the celebration was centered on the right to vote and King’s quote: “So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote I do not possess myself. I cannot make up my mind—it is made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic citizen observing the laws I have helped to enact—I can only submit to the edict of others.”
King County Executive Dow Constantine opened the celebration by highlighting the steps County employees take to further equity and social justice.
“[In King County] we seek to consciously and daily integrate the values of equity and social justice into our every action as a government in service to the people—every decision, every policy, every practice—whether one drives a bus, administers an election, or wears a uniform,” Executive Constantine said.
Gitin, who has received Congressional recognition as well as recognition from Alabama and California for her work on racial justice, focused her address on what people can do to ensure equal voting rights.
“It is our job to make it easy and inviting to vote. It is our job to develop policies and processes fair enough so people care about the question, ‘who is on my county council and our school board?’” Gitin said.
Gitin emphasized the importance of always asking what can be done to improve the voting system.
“Let’s not ask what’s wrong with those people who don’t vote but rather ask ourselves ‘what are the barriers that prevent participation?’ …’How do we ensure their voices are heard?’”
The celebration included musical performances by the band Ben & Joe and a performance by Prosecuting Attorney’s Office employee Michael Hepburn. Students who won the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. student essay contest in King County were also recognized.
Watch a KCTV video of the celebration.
Thank you to those employees who served on the 2015 MLK Celebration planning committee: Rose Dotson, Department of Assessments; Heather Dwyer, 4Culture; Paula Harris-White, Department of Executive Services; Michael Hepburn, Prosecuting Attorney’s Office; Kate Karpf, Department of Natural Resources and Parks; Jim Kelly, 4 Culture; John Lewis, Department of Transportation; Cheeketa Mabone, Executive’s Office; Doreen Michum, 4 Culture; Llonia Patterson, Department of Public Health; Al Sanders, King County Council; Kathryn Schipper, Superior Court; Marcus Stubblefield, Superior Court.