Politics. Everyone’s favorite topic. The echoes of “is it summer or fall in an election year? YES! THAT’S MY FAVORITE!” are running through your mind, your friend circle, your Facebook friend circle, and best of all – yes – your extended family’s email chains.
On the exact day I turned eighteen, I marched into my freshman year history teacher’s classroom and said to him, “remember when you said you would help us register to vote if we came to you when we turned eighteen? Well, that day has arrived for me, my friend. Sign me up.” And he did. I remember him saying how few of his students actually took him up on that offer. I might have been the first one that year. Having a June birthday, I was shocked. I thought, “Why would that not be the first thing you did when you turned eighteen?” So naïve. So thirsty to exercise my law-given right to vote.
When I was a sophomore in college, my Mom, seeing this spark in me ready to ignite, gifted me with a pin stating “if you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention,” and I proudly wore it “defiantly” on my standard blue backpack – all around campus. This was 2004, and President George W. Bush defeated John Kerry. (I yearn for his time as our President, now, not at all ironically.) After Bush’s 2000 defeat of Al Gore “hanging chads” win, I was outraged. I was paying attention.
Circling back: it was that easy for me to become a registered voter, something I took for granted at the time. I am privileged in that way. But all these years later what I do not (and cannot) understand is those around me who dismiss politics and the right to vote, claim politics is something they cannot “get into,” simply do not want to bother with, or do not want to risk friendships over. Because to me, being an informed Citizen – one who now takes Citizenship extremely seriously, and the right to vote never for granted – means getting deeply involved in politics, getting outraged, and paying attention.
I sincerely do understand why people do not want to be bothered. Discussing politics is taboo. Friendships are challenged and possibly ruined, people get really really nasty, and everybody lies. (See: “House,” the television show.) Plus, being informed is such an obligation. I mean, most of us have jobs that wear us down, chores that we barely have time for, bills to worry over AND pay, and relationships to maintain.
But do you know what is worse than all of that? Being uninformed, believing it is not worth your time, and not exercising your right as a Citizen of the United States of America to vote on any given election day.
Let me tell you why.
To disregard politics, an informed decision, or voting at all is to do a tremendous disservice to yourself, the people you care about, and the country as a whole.
Give me a few minutes to say a few things. Please. Because if I can change the mind of just one person I know who is not planning on voting November 8, 2016, it would literally make my year worthwhile.
Think of this: your vote counts as much as President Barack Obama’s. And Robert De Niro’s. And Lady Gaga’s. And [insert a celebrity you admire or hate here]’s. You may think your vote does not matter. It does. Every person who goes into a voting booth is making a statement. And that statement is “I give at least one fuck.”
In all seriousness, exercising your right to vote, is, in my opinion, your responsibility if you qualify under the following two conditions:
- You live in this country and are a Citizen; and,
- You have the access to and are able to vote.
Why? Because there are people who gave their literal lives so that they could. Because there are people who are stripped of that liberty every minute of every day before they realize it. Because there is no excuse good enough not to.
I know; you’ve heard it all before, right?
On August 6, 1965, black Americans were finally given the unencumbered right to vote. “The Voting Rights Act, signed on August 6, 1965, aimed to overcome legal barriers at the state and local levels that prevented African Americans from exercising their right to vote under the 15th Amendment (1870) to the Constitution of the United States.” (See: http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/voting-rights-act.) That’s 178 years after slaves were counted as only 3/5ths of all other 5/5ths of people. Think the “Three Fifth’s Compromise” is unimportant? “The effect was to give the southern states a third more seats in Congress and a third more electoral votes than if slaves had been ignored, but fewer than if slaves and free persons had been counted equally, allowing the slaveholder interests to largely dominate the government of the United States until 1861.” “We Hold These Truths to be Self-evident;” An Interdisciplinary Analysis of the Roots of Racism & slavery in America Kenneth N. Addison; Introduction p. xxii (and, sadly, Wikipedia). Yes, really. Essentially, this allowed slave owners to use slaves as a way to cast more votes.
1965 is only fifty-one (51!) years ago. That blood-ridden right is not even close to being as old as your grandparents, or, presumably, if you are reading this, your parents. Your parents have been alive longer than black Americans have had the right to unequivocally vote as Citizens of this country. And it wasn’t even an election year.
Women (read: non-black women) were “afforded” the right to vote on August 18, 1920. One of our current Presidential Candidates knows this as the Nineteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, and I guarantee she exercises it. That’s a mere ninety-six (96) years ago. Non-black women have been allowed to vote for a mere forty-five (45) years longer than black Americans. That is, in many cases, less than one lifetime in years. As a woman – I can affirmatively say – that sucks.
Martin Luther King, Jr. fought for many rights for black Americans; the right to vote being just one. He was murdered within three (3) years of that right being won without restraints. He is one of the most famous persons to be killed fighting for the right to vote, but he certainly has company. And “women’s suffrage” is not just a meme. People literally died for the right that I see too many friends and acquaintances dismissing as “not worth it.”
It is the year 2016. An election year. And although things have changed since 1920 and 1965, certainly, many people cannot vote “easily.” There are registration barriers (a simple Google search will do you wonders) everywhere. “In 2016, 14 states will have new voting restrictions in place for the first time in a presidential election. The new laws range from strict photo ID requirements to early voting cutbacks to registration restrictions.” (See: http://www.brennancenter.org/voting-restrictions-first-time-2016.)
Additionally, an estimated one in thirteen (1/13) of African Americans reportedly cannot vote due to felony convictions. (See: http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2012/07/one_in_13_african_americans_ca.html) Statistics are skewed no matter what so it’s relative. But I am a lawyer. I took more criminal law courses than any other type of course in law school. And black people indeed disproportionately lose their right to vote due to criminal sentencing.
Read that last statement again, please. “Criminal sentencing” – not actual “beyond a reasonable doubt” guilt. That means that a huge percentage of our population loses the right to vote because of an unfair legal system.
What I am trying to emphasize is that you do not have to commit crimes to lose your right to vote; you merely have to plead to certain ones. This difference cannot be stressed enough. Our judicial system punishes people who go to trial.
That means, if you are not rich (read: upper middle class and below), and you cannot afford an attorney, you will be pushed through a system that is so under-funded that you will be encouraged to plead guilty before you even realize the effects of that action.
A Public Defender will probably do whatever he/she can to get a criminal Defendant to plead out. It’s faster, it’s cheaper for America, and if you actually go to trial and you are found “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” you will get the maximum sentence for whatever it is you are convicted of — JUST for “wasting” the time of every party involved just because you exercised your right to a fair trial.
I was taught this, and it is true.
For this and many other reasons, I earnestly believe convicts should not lose the right to vote. There is a significant chance that a convict was persuaded to plead to a conviction, guilty or not. And, a disproportionate amount of minorities are convicts. Therefore, a significant portion of our population is, on a consistent basis, losing the right to vote because of our legal system, which is, in fact, weighted against minorities, which of course, changes the outcome of elections. If that seems unfair to you (and it should), go vote about it.
Before I finish, let’s not forget the non-Citizens. It is estimated that a majority of adult American Citizens cannot pass a Citizenship test. I doubt Trump could. Where I work, I encounter more non-Citizens than Citizens. If you are close to New York City, you likely know or have met non-Citizens or immigrants. But yes, there are still people who come to this country seeking all that it offers and willing to go to great lengths to obtain Citizenship status. Because it means something to be an American Citizen.
So that right to vote, is not something to be taken lightly.
I cannot say what is at stake in this election. I can hypothesize. I could tell you that I believe Donald Trump is a dumber Hitler who will ruin our country because he does not understand how it runs. I could tell you Hillary Clinton will not let that happen although she likely will continue the work Obama started. I can tell you that candidate Trump wants to mark, account for, and do who knows what else, to an entire ethnicity of people (much like Hitler did in the Holocaust) and a terrifying number of people support this crusade. I can tell you some states are probably voting on whether or not to legalize marijuana. I can tell you next year your birth control might be so expensive you cannot afford it on your salary after paying the minimum on your student loan balance. I can tell you that any candidate who does not understand the laws of our nation certainly will not respect those of any other — and could very well get us all killed.
But what it boils down to is this: there are a lot of people in this country who want to vote — and cannot. And as much as I wish those who cannot vote (due to lack of availability of registration, a loss of rights, or other incapacity) could have the vote of those of you who waste it, that’s not how our country works.
Give at least one fuck.
Vote because you can when so many cannot. Vote because somewhere there is a person who cannot vote because he/she has never been able to take a driving lesson, own a car, or to obtain a driver’s license which is required for voter registration in his/her state. Vote because our legal system allows people to lose the right to even if those people are innocent. Vote because you want to “cancel out” my vote.
But please, I beg you: educate yourself and vote.
Vote because you were not always allowed to. And vote because you might never be allowed to again.