This week The New York Times reported on a years-long research project that found that children who move from lower-income to higher-income neighborhoods may improve their odds of succeeding, with their likelihood of going to college and the amount of money they're likely to earn as adults increasing for every year spent in the better neighborhood.
That's good news for families able to move. But for those who are poor, with little chance of, or interest in, leaving their current homes, the important question is how we can change things here, now.
One important way to spark change is by voting.
Elected officials have an important hand in determining the fates of communities, rich or poor. Take, for example, the Maryland State's Attorney for Baltimore, Marilyn Mosby. As many already know, Mosby announced late last week that her office would prosecute the six officers in whose custody Freddie Gray died earlier in the month. Coming, as they did, after a spate of African-American men were killed by police who went unprosecuted, the charges offered hope for many, in Baltimore and across the country, that government officials would be held accountable and a case tried.
For those who welcomed Ms. Mosby's pronouncement, and for those who did not, it's vital to remember that, last November, the people of Baltimore elected her to the State's Attorney's office. They also elected the sheriff and, with other Marylanders, the governor, members of Congress and state legislators. Those who applauded Ms. Mosby's actions can thank themselves for showing up at the polling place last November and checking that box. (Similarly, those who disagree with her decision can tell themselves, "Next election.")
Mosby's announcement on the Gray case is a reminder that votes do have an impact; they can affect day-to-day lives.
With the deluge of money in politics thanks to the Supreme Court's decisions in Citizens United and McCutcheon, it's easy to feel dispirited when big corporate interests drown out the voices of individual Americans. But in this past election, even though the incumbent, Greg Bernstein, outspent Mosby three to one, she defeated him in the primary and handily won the State's Attorney seat in November. It was an impressive demonstration that issues still matter, and that when voters turn out in sufficient numbers, as they did in Baltimore's primary, their voices can be heard. And it's those voices, tabulated at the polls, that may spur change, better communities, and help increase children's chances of future success -- without a move to the next neighborhood.
With early voting, absentee voting, and same-day registration on the books in Maryland, eligible voters in the "Old Line" state now have several options to both register and vote. Those voters are spared the nuisance of an arbitrary registration deadline, set in many states to arrive just as campaigns heat up and citizens take an interest. Plus, as of 2015, the Maryland legislature has not only restored funding to the Fair Campaign Finance Fund, the small-donor matching program for gubernatorial candidates, but strengthened the program by expanding possible voluntary funding sources and adding language to keep the program clean. Voters, again, can thank each other for electing legislators who, with this legislation, demonstrated a willingness to shift "the focus of campaigns away from special interests and back to everyday constituents."
More states should ease voting burdens and implement strong voting and campaign-finance reform. When we give eligible citizens more opportunities to register, through same-day, online, and automatic registration, and then vote, and when we pass campaign-finance reforms that allow candidates to spend more time with constituents and less time pandering to big-money interests, we arrive at a democracy not just for the few but for the many. After all, democracy only works if it truly represents the people. And that requires all eligible voters being counted.