As a country, the United States is fundamentally about freedom – freedom to speak our minds, freedom from tyrannical rule, and even the freedom to choose our own leaders. In the 2014 midterm election, voter turnout was 36.4%. That was the worst turnout in the U.S. since World War II. This begs the question: Why don’t we exercise our freedom to vote as often as we can? Are Americans just apathetic about government? Many people have a distaste for politics, but that does not seem like a good reason to throw up your hands and forfeit your individual voice.
Our country declared its independence less than three centuries ago, but many of its people had to wait much longer to be granted political freedom. Women had to wait until 1920 – when the 19th Amendment was passed – for their voting rights to be legally recognized. As women, we have had that right for just 96 years. There are people alive today who are older than our right to vote. Yet so many of us have forsaken that right, ignoring the countless suffragettes who fought for it through marches, protests, and even jail time. These activists committed themselves wholly and selflessly to the cause at a time when it was highly controversial to think of ourselves as equal to men. At its core, women’s suffrage was not just about getting the right to vote – it also meant demanding that we be seen as full citizens in the eyes of the law.
Today, there is a pervasive attitude of disdain towards politics. You can say whatever you want about it: it’s dirty or dishonest or full of cruel narcissists. But when you refrain from voting – when you forgo participating in a right we are privileged to even have – then you may as well hand over the election to the very people who make you hate politics. And consider all of the issues that especially affect women. Do you feel passionate about equal pay or abortion? What about other issues like illegal immigration, gun control, or income inequality? Just decades ago, women could not even contribute their opinions to our country’s political dialogue, let alone actually act on their insights by voting. If you don’t vote, you give up what those who came before us fought so valiantly to have – a voice.
But when you do vote – when you stand up and say, “This is what I think,” then your voice contributes to the conversation. People say their one vote doesn’t matter. But it does. It may not win the election, but it voices your opinion loud and clear. You make yourself – and your beliefs – known. Imagine two elections. In Election #1, the winner gets 80% of the vote and the loser gets 20%. Election #2 is much closer: the winner gets 55% and the loser gets 45%. Election results are never this clean and crisp, but I give this example only to point out that Election #2 shows that nearly half of the country has a vastly different view than the other half. That is a strong statement to the newly elected official. It says, “Half of your people feel this way. You cannot ignore it.” If you voted for the loser in that election, your vote was most certainly not in vain. You and your peers sent a message to your leaders, which is exactly what an election is supposed to do.
I urge you to follow the suffragettes’ example. Don’t surrender your voice. Don’t give up your right to say “I want this for my country, my district, my city.” I urge you to fight against apathy. Reject complacency. Bring your strongest morals and your loftiest ideals to the polling booth with you. Do not allow yourself to be silenced. Do you dislike what you see in politics? Then say so. Apathy never changed anything, not even for the better. Neither did staying silent. Vote, and let your voice be heard.