I wrote this four years ago before the last Presidential election. It rings as true now as it did then. This was just published in the Inner City News where I am a regular contributor.
I have a friend, an African-American single mother of two whose eldest daughter is coming of age to vote in her first Presidential election. As I understand it her daughter has no plans to vote and feels it won’t make a difference. In frustration, her mother asked me if I could speak to her daughter and convince her of the need to vote. I played out the conversation in my mind, as I imagined it might go, wondering what I might say that she hasn’t already heard. I don’t know if it’s a factor in her thinking but she happens to reside in a state that is not in play and indeed her vote won’t influence the Electoral College votes allocated to her state. The conversation in my mind never ended well because I’ve never met the daughter (the mother either in fact), have no ideas as to her goals and aspirations and have no knowledge of her circumstances that could provide a reason to vote specific to her concerns.
For African-Americans of my generation, the question of whether to vote was simply never an issue. We had it ingrained in us the sacrifices that were made on our behalf that allowed us to receive the right to vote. People died… and like Foghorn Leghorn I want to repeat myself… I say people died that I might be able to vote and it would be the ultimate disrespect to my ancestors to not take advantage because of whatever inconvenience it might entail. They gave their lives and I can’t give an hour? I can’t think of a soul in mine or my family’s circle that I could have told I wasn’t planning to vote and not be ridiculed and chastised, not necessarily in that order. By the time I reached voting age I was 6’6” and over 200lbs yet a line might have formed to knock some sense into me if I just decided not to vote. Voting wasn’t something you only thought about or talked about, it was something you did. That generation has passed however. Kids that grew up playing video games instead of playing outside don’t automatically understand the significance of voting. They likely can’t be guilted into voting so what does that leave?
I’ll start with self-interest. Voting is communication, it’s the way you let your government and its leaders know what you’re thinking. If you don’t let them know, what you want won’t be considered. Imagine a new born baby, unable to communicate when they’re hungry, or wet or cold. In the same way, your needs won’t be met except by happenstance if you choose as an adult to remain silent and merely accept the decisions of others.
While yes your vote for President won’t change the outcome of this election. It is evident that decisions affecting you are being made at multiple levels by your Senator’s, your Congressman and your state and local representatives. There is a well funded effort being made to shape the laws that affect you and if you don’t like the direction things are going? The only way to overcome having someone else’s views imposed on you is to say no with your vote.
I understand you’re either 20 or 21 years old. You may have plans to continue your education and those plans may depend on your ability to get school loans. The availability to get those loans and the cost at which you pay them back is directly impacted by those people that your vote will help determine who gets into office. As a woman, you may have plans to have children one day and your ability to control the factors in that choice will depend on who you vote for. There are those who would affect the cost and availability of many types of birth control. There are those seeking to restrict and even eliminate some of the primary providers of women’s health services. If you need a mammogram or PAP smear or pre-natal education and healthcare. The place you could go today may be shut down tomorrow because you didn’t indicate your preference. Although you have the legal right to an abortion, a choice which hopefully you’ll never have to consider. Some states are looking to make it harder or impossible within your state to elect that option. You might expect equal pay as a man for the same job but there are people protecting the status quo and your vote might be the difference.
Should you have children one day, you may be concerned about the quality and cost of their education. How many will be in their classroom? How effective are their teachers? Will their education prepare them for the jobs available in the future and will they be able to go to college.
You happen to be an African-American. There is a serious effort by some politicians to restrict your vote in order to maintain their grasp on political power as the demographics of the country changes and the voters look less and less like them. If you stand by and let this happen. The gains obtained by our forefathers will be wiped out because you stood idly by and when the results of that choice begin to impact you, it will be long past time to complain.
Hopefully, because the alternative is definitely worse, you’ll reach the age of retirement and you will need the increased availability of health care services and likely want a return on the Social Security plan you will have invested in for many years. How those programs are managed and changed will depend on what elected officials you either put in place or watch while others do so. If you choose not to vote… you are abdicating all the choices affecting you and your family to others whose intentions may not be near the same as yours had you decided to participate.
I must add that not only do you have a responsibility to vote. You have a duty to educate yourself on the issues and the candidates and to know and understand what’s at stake each time you make a choice. When you’re aware of what’s at stake you may choose to speak out and add your voice to others in fighting for what you believe in, or your children’s future or making sure your rights aren’t eroded by others as they seek to put their desires ahead of yours.
I encourage you to look at voting, not as a duty or responsibility. But as an Honor to give recognition to those who suffered much to give you this opportunity. See voting as a way to shape your children’s future and their children’s after that. See it as a way not to get punked by someone who is taking away your rights and laughing at you while doing so. See it as something you look forward to doing each and every time because there is no time in which it does not matter.
There are those who seem to equate removing regulations protecting the environment and ensuring financial protections with freedom somehow. And somehow, restricting your rights as a woman and the right to control your body while not freedom is their moral responsibility. Don’t let someone else define your freedom. Vote!