I grew up in a tiny former farming community in rural Pennsylvania. I can still remember tagging along with my dad when he went to vote. He’d drive me down to the old grist mill, restored from the 1820s, to park in one of the four spots in front of our polling location. My parents never missed an election – not then and not now.
My dad would dutifully accept each flyer handed to him outside of the polls with a nod and a smile. He’d analyze each one before pushing over the tiny, metal clips to cast his votes for supervisors, judges, and school board representatives behind the heavy, dusty curtain in those tiny voting booths. My mom would chide him. “Don’t just vote for the people on the flyers! You don’t know anything about them!” Two important lessons from my parents: Vote and know your candidates.
Like most kids, I didn’t know a lot about politics, if anything at all. I only had a sense that there were two major “teams” and that my parents were indisputably on one of them. In my house, voting wasn’t anything I ever would have guessed could be difficult or stifled in any way. It certainly wouldn’t be for anyone living where I grew up. I appreciate having an understanding of how important it is to vote.
Naturally, as soon as I was old enough, I didn’t. Not as often as I should have. I’m certain I didn’t understand primary elections (most voters don’t!), and I was only interested in doing it for the “I voted” sticker during the couple of presidential elections I was eligible to vote in between college and young adulthood. I didn’t see myself in any of “the issues” being talked about in the news, and I didn’t become a homeowner until 2012. Even then, privileged in our own right, my husband and I rarely found ourselves in situations where it mattered who occupied the White House. Until it did.
In 2017, I ran for a position in local government on the “team” representing a political perspective very different from my parents’. Not only did I win, I won by more than 65% of the vote and am running for re-election this year. For reasons of personal growth and professional insights, it was one of the best decisions of my life. I’ve learned several lessons I will take with me (and tell anyone who will listen) for the rest of my life.
Lesson One: VOTE. Vote as soon as you can in every single election. Not only did many marginalized groups – including women – including people of color – spend generations fighting for the right to do so, voting has become one of “the issues” we’re watching on our screens, and I, like many of you, are aghast. Growing up in my tiny pocket of Pennsylvania, I never would have imagined a world where I might have to stand in unimaginably long lines just so my parents could vote. Or a world where my parents worked several jobs so could not get to the polls on time. Or could be ridiculed for exercising the right to vote via an absentee ballot.
Local elections during “off years” matter. Your local government officials are the ones who will email you back if there’s a problem with your roads or wastewater treatment facility, if you’re looking for a local AA meeting, or you’re interested in upgrades to the playground in your neighborhood. The President of the United States doesn’t know what’s going on with your police department or EMS personnel. He’s not going to have oversight over whether or not your grandkids’ teachers are wearing masks. Local elections matter.
The truth is, we can write as many quippy comments across social media as we’d like. The best way to shake our fists and really show ’em is by getting to the polls. Let’s support each other in doing so. Help out your neighbors with childcare. Offer rides to polling stations. Hand out snacks and waters. It matters. When I hear conversations about whether we should be teaching equity and inclusion in our schools, it matters. When states across the country are taking away women’s rights, it matters. When the very right to cast a vote comes under attack, it matters.
Red, Blue, Green, or Yellow we may have differing opinions, but we still live in a democracy. Get out and vote. Better yet, get out and vote AND get involved in your local campaigns. It’s local government that impacts each “level” beyond that, and it matters. Don’t take off this year of voting. November 2 is election day across the country. Take a lesson from my parents. Research your local candidates and get out and vote.
Director of Communications & Development