Why I Bother: Voting as a Young American

Last week, I was pleased to be an audience member in the first taping of a new series on why Texans have one of the lowest rates of civic participation in the country. This particular taping was specifically focused on young people and was appropriately titled, “Why Bother: Voices of a New Generation.”

A wide range of young people from various backgrounds shared their reasons for not voting and outwardly discussed the struggles they encounter when they try to engage. The all too expected words like “cynicism” and “apathy” were mentioned occasionally, but many other reasons were discussed. There was some mention of barriers to voting created by systems like racism, ageism, and classism while other young citizens shared the feeling that their vote just doesn’t make a difference, particularly in such a polarized state.

Some expressed frustration with our education system which does not prepare future voting citizens to be well-informed (i.e. how many people are taught how to choose a good Railroad Commissioner?). One young man struggled aloud with his lack of desire to elect either president given that, in his opinion, they’re both working towards the same goals – goals he doesn’t agree with. So why vote?

While I understand the frustrations and struggles of many of my peers, I understand my personal context to morally require me to vote. I do not think the political system is the answer to all of our problems nor do I idolize any candidate. I also respect some of the reasons some don’t vote and acknowledge and condemn the barriers that keep those who want to from doing so. Yet, as a young American, I hold many identities. I am young, but I am also white, female, lesbian, educated, and Christian. As such, here at the ten reasons I believe I must vote.

  1. Because of my faith. As a Christian, I am compelled by my faith claims to do all that is within my power to create a more just society, to contribute to the healing of the world, and to work towards right-relationship with humans, nonhuman animals, and the greater ecosystems. Politics are not the answer to all of the brokenness in the world, but they are one of many systems I affect and am affected by and  can act as one tool I can engage for living out the values of my faith. Even when it feels like my vote doesn’t count for anything, to stand true to my values requires me to put forth the effort regardless. This reason runs in and through all of the following.
  2. Because my privilege demands it. I’m white. I’m Christian. I’m American. These aspects of my identity, along with some others, come with privilege and thus, power. Where racism, religious intolerance, and unjust foreign policies are intertwined with political options I can choose from, it is my responsibility to use the power of my privilege to vote for a more just society – locally and globally.
  3. Because of the suffragettes. It’s been just 92 years since women were granted the right to vote. The struggle many women endured to earn that right – actually, to be given the right that should have been ours from the get go – was full of grief, harassment, energy, violence, time in prison, hunger strikes, etc. The sacrifices which were made so I could vote,  demand, at minimum, I exercise the ability.
  4. Because we have created an ecological crisis.  The more I learn about environmental issues, the more I wonder how much things like our national deficit are going to matter in 75 years. When climate scientists are starting to realize that the Arctic sea collapse is exceeding worst case scenarios put out by the UN International Panel on Climate Change, I can’t help but begin to see environmental policy as a top priority. I’ve contributed to climate change, species loss, abundant waste – I owe it to the whole cosmos to care enough to vote.
  5. Because it can make a difference.  Voting isn’t only about the final results, though it may feel like it the day after your candidate/legislation doesn’t pass. However, the number of people who vote for something has influence beyond the day at the polls. Legislators, party platforms, candidates, other voters etc. will take note if something loses by 5% rather than by 90%. Even if I think what I’m voting for doesn’t stand a chance, my vote can still have an influence on the future. More importantly, perhaps, I vote because local legislation can make a drastic difference in individual lives. For example, in Austin, TX we will be voting on seven bond propositions that will, without tax increase, contribute millions of dollars to things like health and human services, parks and recreation, and affordable housing. These are non-partisan issues and, if passed, can change lives for the better. Beyond choosing a presidential candidate, there are many ways voting can have very direct influences on individual lives and cities. These votes make a difference.
  6. Because it affects me. I’m a woman. I’m also lesbian. While it’s simple to say that all politicians are corrupt and that everyone is the same, I couldn’t disagree more. My life will change in, at least, indirect ways depending on the issues/candidates decided on in November. All views are not equal between local or federal politicians in regards to how women should be treated, on the right to choose an abortion, on access to contraception, or on what constitute things like rape or violence against women. To say everyone is the same is to completely ignore what it means to be a woman in America. Just as obvious are differences between many politicians on LGBT issues. Some will support things like marriage equality, ending job discrimination, and creating policies that appropriately acknowledge the violence towards the LGBT community which is contributing to higher rates of suicide and homelessness in the lives of our young people. Others will support legislation that works against me and the issues I care about. Choices matter.
  7. Because legislation that affects me isn’t the only thing that matters. There are policies that will have no direct impact on my life. These issues are no less important than the ones that will. To dismiss legislation just because it won’t affect me is to also choose to dismiss those it will affect.
  8. Because not everyone can. Last year, a number of new laws were passed which made it harder for many people of color, the elderly, low-income individuals, students, transgender people, and people with disabilities to exercise their right to vote. Under the guise of preventing voter fraud, these new laws are silencing a number of voices and dis-empowering our citizens.  I, on the other hand, can vote with ease. To not vote (and work to change this problem) would be to completely take for granted the privileges I have done nothing to earn.
  9. Because others will hold me accountable. When future generations ask what I did about the ecological crisis, the War on Women, or the lack of civil rights for LGBT people, I want to say I did everything I could. This includes voting.
  10. Because I refuse to give up my power. One young woman reminded us all at the “Why Bother” taping of some good words by author and activist Alice Walker. Walker once said, “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” I vote because I think she’s right.

This photo is re-featured here in accordance with its Creative Commons License. It was taken by Theresa Thompson.

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3 thoughts on “Why I Bother: Voting as a Young American

  1. This list is excellent, thank you Mary Ann. I’m struck by all of them, but particularly #5 and #9. I would add my own subpoint to #7 — For me, I vote because there is much at stake for others! I vote because I am voting on issues/politicians/presidents that will have an impact on my friends, my colleagues, the people I go to church with, the people I see every day who are hurting. That alone is reason for me to engage the political process.

    1. Thanks Chris!! I love your subpoint – a very important one, indeed. Happy voting! 🙂

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