When I was a young mischief-maker, my mother took me to the polls. It didn’t matter whether it was a local, state, or federal election—we waited in lines and filed into the red, white, and blue striped voting booths together. Sometimes, if I happened to be very lucky, one of the poll attendants would indulgently pass me an “I voted!” sticker. As I grew older, my mother continued to include me in her political deliberations: I sat in on meetings with the Friends of Education, was encouraged to hold signs with her at local elections and busy intersections, and attended grand political rallies. I remember willing my hands to steady, repeating a mental be cool, as I shook Al Gore’s hand and mustered up some strangled variant of, “IT’S AN HONOR TO MEET YOU, MR. VICE PRESIDENT.” (I’ll also never forget my mother’s disappointed face as she crowed, “Really? You couldn’t think up anything intelligent to say to that man?”)
But this formative political inclusion cemented the notion that voting is important, a privilege. My mother made it clear that being an active and informed voter was my civic duty as an American, and that to effect change, I needed to become a part of the political process. As such, when I turned eighteen, a few friends and I marched down to town hall to register to vote. Someone tipped off a local paper, and a reporter showed up to document the event, spin it into a story about how some of America’s youth were still passionate about politics. That newspaper clipping still lives in a photo album at my family’s home: me with my slip of paper, flowered halter top, huge grin.
Let me be clear: while my mother and I agree on many politically-charged issues, she never dictated my beliefs. She taught me that educating oneself, ignoring biased news outlets and political advertisements, and seeking truth is crucial to becoming an informed citizen who will work for the betterment of society. For those who are the least privileged. And truly, it’s not difficult these days—there are treasure troves of non-partisan websites that will give you a complete rundown on where candidates stand on a number of hot-button issues. You can look up your sample ballot online and make sure that you research all the candidates, even the unfamiliar local names, and read the fine print on all the proposals you’ll have to take a stand on. You can—and should—look into the so-called non-partisan candidates for school boards and the Supreme Court—they are often endorsed and funded by a major political party.
Elections, especially local elections, are important, and your vote does matter. Even Presidential elections can be decided by a sliver of votes, and local elections can be even closer. These are people who will be potentially making decisions about your future, your body, your ability to earn a decent living. We don’t always make it easy to vote in this country, especially if you have a job, but I implore you to brave the cold temperatures and long lines to make your voices heard. It’s extraordinarily easy to be cynical about politics, denounce business as usual, and sneer at partisan in-fighting. But for some folks out there, it's an ongoing struggle for representation and consensus. To quote a friend, AK, "For some of us, it is our safety, our lives, our bodies. While others theorize, we suffer."