06 November 2012

Exercise Your Right

"Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves and the only way they could do this is by not voting."
~ Franklin D. Roosevelt

In 1980, I was 12 years old.

I recall vividly that this was the first time that I was keenly aware of politics. Probably because Mrs. Danforth, my seventh grade teacher, was giving us a glimpse of the way our government works through our civics class, but also because it was the Presidential election between candidates Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.

The day of the election every kid in school - from kindergarten to eighth grade - was given a slip with the names of the candidates on it. We filed past the office and dropped our ballot in the ballot box decorated with red, white and blue streamers and buntings.

I can recall that I selected the only name that I had really heard of in my house. And the feeling of triumph when it was announced at the end of the school day who had won the popular vote at Saint Stephen's Elementary School. I had picked the winning team!

Flash forward a few years to 1986. I was 18 and a freshman in college. I don't recall much in the way of political action on the campus that I was attending, and the biggest campaign in Wisconsin was for governor that year. I remember feeling very grown up that I could walk into the polling place on campus and be given the paper ballot to fill out. But I realized when I got in the booth that I had no knowledge of either candidate aside from the name that I had heard at home over the summer.

After I cast my ballot for governor and tried to muddle through the convoluted meaning of some referendums on the ballot that day, I remember walking back to my dorm rather confused.

Instead of feeling empowered and all grown up, I felt more unsure and childlike.

I had just voted for a candidate in my first election ever and I had not bothered to pay attention to who he really was, to find out if I agreed with him, to know what was even important to me, and not to just vote because it was a name I heard at the dinner table at home, or because they had the biggest and fanciest signs around town.

I had an epiphany.

I vowed right then and there that I would really investigate the candidates running for office, pay attention to character - not just what they said, but how they said it and more importantly, what they did - and decide in my own heart what was most important to me.

I have voted in every election since.

Every four years, I am sort of a pariah in my family. I am seen as the black sheep, the one that goes against the grain because my views are not the same as my parents. I am frequently the butt of condescending behing-the-back chuckling, almost to the point of feeling like they are ashamed of me, and it is painful to feel the arrogance and derision that comes around once every four years. Suffice it to say that the subject of politics is not one that comes up around our Thanksgiving table.  I would hope that my family would be happy that they raised me to be free thinking, someone who sees the act of voting as an important duty, questioning the candidates and their positions and voting with my heart. But that is not the case.

I will tell you that I don't believe in party line voting because I feel that it is lazy and dangerous and irresponsible - no matter which party you align yourself with - and for that reason I have always firmly stated that I am in independent, not affiliated with any party, taking a critical look at all candidates and perfectly willing to vote for candidates of any persuasion if I feel that they best represent my voice. And because of this, I am one of those undecideds until I step into that booth. All those glossy postcards and robo-calls and increasingly ridiculous TV and radio ads directed at swinging my vote.

{Seriously. We have an ad on the radio right now that is two women talking over coffee about deciding between two candidates for Senate. The topic centers around the candidate in question as a good husband and father, to which the other girl says, "And he's the cute one, right?" WTH...So now we are asked to vote for a candidate who is cute?!@?*!? If it wasn't so infuriating that women are portrayed as superficial and only caring for a person's looks, it would sound just like an SNL skit and be hilariously funny. But it is not. It is real.} 

When McCain chose his running mate in 2008, it was with great fanfare that they first appeared in our state, near where my sister lives. She was beside herself with giddiness that it was a woman and suggested that she thought I would be voting for that ticket simply BECAUSE of the fact that we shared the same chromosomes. Um. No. I love my sister dearly, but that sort of thinking scares me. That is as ridiculous as saying that you are voting for the "cute one." Or because you share the same race. Or that the candidate happens to be from your state.

My daughter came home yesterday and announced that they would be casting ballots today for the President at her school. She wondered aloud if her vote would be added to the national election ;-). I explained that no, her vote was not added to the national tally, but this was just a way to understand what is meant by exercising her right to vote and that everyone - every single person in the United States - has that right. There are people in other countries who don't have this right, there was a time when women here didn't have that right, so it is not something to be taken lightly. I asked her to read a bit about the candidates and decide with her heart whom she felt would be the best to govern our country. I also told her that her vote is her own and it doesn't change my feeling for her one bit if she doesn't cast a ballot for the same candidate that I do.

I want my children to grow up and take this right seriously, to find out what matters most to them, and to be informed about their decisions. I look forward to having discussions with them in the future, and I will never insult their intelligence by telling them who I expect they will vote for. I want them to know that I will not belittle their choice but will celebrate them taking part in the process.

And I especially want them to know that I will love them all the more for casting that ballot no matter whom which candidate gets their vote.

Please, go and vote today.
 Vote with your conscience and your heart. 
Just vote.


EB Bead and Metal Works, LLC said...

I really liked your post - and I am with you a 100% (same with mom). Mom and I don't considered ourselves one party or another. We both look what the candidate stands for and that is what we are voting for. I usually don't talk politics with anyone because it doesn't go well - especially with my family too. Thank you for your post!!!

Lori P said...

Oh ditto to both you and Beth. I got to vote early. And my family more or less canceled one another out. Sigh. But we do so respectfully and lovingly. :)

Courtney Breul said...

Love this post! So much of it resonates with me. We (our family) have always discussed these things so our kids know exactly where we stand, it is their decision on how they want to vote. My daughter is 18 and just voted in her first election - she researched everything and voted with an informed mind. We took our son (14) this morning to vote with us. So important! We have had discussions all week going over the issues. Felt so good!

AntiquityTravelers said...

Right on!

I grew up in a very, very small town where you typically follow along with what your parents do/ say/ vote. But when I left home, I bought a one-way ticket to NYC. Yes I visit, but I avoid politics like the plague as I don't find it to be an enlightening conversation. It tends to be a repetition of what is heard on a station called Fox "news" ... A misnomer to be sure. While the name suggests it is news, it is actually classified as an entertainment channel.

I believe in making sure I understand the issues. That I follow them, read about them and ask questions. And not just today, or last week, but on an on-going basis. I'm not hugely political, but understanding what is going on in the world and how you can be involved, or vote is an amazing right in this country.

I agree - get out and vote!

Cassi said...

I feel lucky to share the same political views as my parents and two of three siblings. My father-in-law, however, does not share my (and my husbands) political views, and it does cause a rift between them every four years.

I agree with you that it is important to look at every candidate and make a decision based on that particular candidate, but I will admit that I also take into account the overall party platforms. There are some strong differences there, and sometimes I will vote for someone because of their party. I have a daughter, and I feel the need to protect her future in that way.

Alice said...

Growing up I was never exposed much to politics except the opinions of my father. But I was too young to understand. After I got married at age 18 for some reason voting was not important to me. But over the years I tried to be educated about the candidates, but I have to say this year was the most difficult time I've ever had at making a choice. Honestly I can never believe a word either of them says,and how do I know they can get done what they say they will? And I'm just not able to tell how some of their actions will affect me and my family. This year my husband and I are on opposite sides, a first in our 31 years together. Like you, I don't believe in voting along a certain party line, but more on the lines of who will be the best one for the job.

No matter what, I am thankful that we can vote witout fearing for our lives

Therese's Treasures said...

Hi Erin,
This is a wonderful post and it touches on how most people think and feel. I have always been one to move to the beat of my own drum and not with the crowd, but I do shy away from conversations of politics and religion. I voted today as I have ever since my first time voting for the President of our United States in 1980. Yes while you were in grade school learning about politics, I was casting my very first vote.
May we always be a country that has the freedom to vote for the men and women that will represent and up- hold our rights as United States citizens.

Michelle Tucker said...

Great post!

Michelle Tucker said...

Great post!

LisaS said...

Go Girl!

And as my family sits with anticipation around the TV tonight watching incoming election results. I can only wish for another data point and wonder who was the big winner at your daughter's straw vote... ;)

Jess Green said...

I love your attitude Erin, I wish more people could grasp this truth of political responsibility, perhaps the world would be a better place for it :)

Shel said...

What a lovely and post! It brought tears to my eyes because I too think it's such an important right we have as US citizens to vote. I love how you support your children, teaching them to think for themselves, find the information and follow their own hearts - as it should be. More people should have such an open heart and mind,....

Kim said...

This post really resonated with me. My family and I are at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to political issues and I never bring it up (they do frequently). I am always (still in my 40's)! ridiculed for my views and I used to get yelled at for not voting for their candidate. It stinks. I am one of the only ones among my friends that actually does research on my own to decide, they all base their decisions off of what they see on tv. It is very frustrating to me. I see it as a very important responsibility and feel that it's my obligation to spend some time and research who is the best fit for my vote. It also frustrates me when people don't bother to vote, it is such a precious right to have and we should all use it.

Sharyl said...

My son voted in his first election Nov. 6th. He's been so anxious to do so since in grade school when President Clinton was running for office. He was just a little too young the last presidential election, but was so excited Tuesday voting and Tuesday evening watching the results. It was a joy to see!

Margot Potter said...

Rock on.


Anonymous said...

That was a very well written post! My own daughter voted differently than I did and while my husband was quick to dislike that fact I reminded him that each one of us has the right to vote for who we think will do the best job, period. He kept his mouth closed about it after that, lol. One thing you might consider is choosing a party. I was an independent but I changed because I began to feel that choosing a candidate right from the start was important too. I can still vote my heart be it dem. or repub. when it's time but I like being a part of the process all the way through.


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