Today is Election Day, the day when the mid-term elections will determine the makeup of the House of Representatives and the Senate as well as state and local governments. Many of us have been waiting for this day for two years because we want to turn things around. Others will go to the polls because they like the direction the country is going in and they want to double down on it.
Whichever side you’re on, you have the ability to cast your vote today (if you didn’t do it earlier) and add your weight to how America will run for the next two years.
Imagine if you could not do this.
Courageous Voting; Deadly Dissent
Imagine if you lived in a country like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or Cuba where an elite group of powerful men decides for you how you will live your life or even IF you will live your life. You would have no say—none at all. Day by day you would live with their decisions regardless of whether you liked them, approved of them, or thought they were dangerous. Dissent would be futile at best and downright dangerous at worst.
Imagine living in a country where casting a vote—and inking your finger to prove it—was a gesture of personal courage. You would wake at night wondering whether the secret police or the religious police or the troops were coming to take you from your bed and throw you into a cold damp cell. Think about fearing the worst—that you would stand in front of a mass grave while the Army re-loaded their weapons to gun you down.
Instead we have Election Day.
Election Day: Democracy’s Most Powerful Weapon
For the last two years, we have argued and fought with one another. We rage at what the other side believes, unable to accept that millions of people can actually take that position seriously. We are so divided as a country that any political discussion can become a minefield. Family members don’t talk to one another. Political fault lines fracture communities down the middle. Facts, opinions, and propaganda fly around social media like shells over the WWI trenches. The arguments grow louder. The accusations become more vicious.
And then, today, we go to the polls and register our approval or our dissent with that most powerful of democracy’s weapons—the vote.
The Lessons of Voting
The other day I read about a young woman of color who said that she had never thought of voting because there was “no tradition of voting” in her family. That did not surprise me because white supremacists denied people of color the vote for generations and still do so when they can. But it made me think of going to the polls with my parents on Election Day. I remember standing off to the side and watching my mother and father go into those mysterious curtained cubicles to do something they considered their civic duty as free citizens.
- Voting was important.
- Voting was necessary.
- It was something I should do when I grew up.
- I should not let anyone stop me from doing it.
The woman’s declaration also made me realize two things:
- Many people do not share my childhood experience. (White privilege at work.) If my parents had been denied the vote because of a poll tax they couldn’t pay, a test they couldn’t pass, a picture ID they couldn’t afford to get, a polling place so far away they couldn’t reach it, lines so long they couldn’t take time off from work to wait in them, or hostile election workers who stopped them, my family might also have had no tradition of voting.
- We have failed miserably to educate our children on the mechanisms of democracy and the importance of civic duty. I studied civics in high school. We learned how the government ran and, because it was a Presidential election year, we used the new administration as a model. It worked. Yet, for some reason, we have stopped teaching our children how the country they live in runs and how that makes America different from every other country on earth. We don’t teach Americans with “no tradition of voting” why they should do it and how important their vote is.
If I had my way, the right to vote would depend on passing a national civics test. This would eliminate many of the people who try hard to deny others the vote while themselves having very little knowledge of democracy’s actual workings.
The Celebrity Influence
This year, for the first time, celebrities have been coming out and going door to door, urging people with no tradition of voting to register and go to the polls. I think this is an excellent idea and I hope it expands in the 2020 presidential election. If it takes Michael B. Jordan or Oprah Winfrey coming to your front door to make you pay attention, then, well, let’s get more celebrities out there.
We need to ensure that Americans are educated and activated. After that, it’s up to the parties to make their cases, promote their platforms, and persuade voters to put them in office. But vote today as if your life depends on it. Because it does.