In the spring of 1996, I was a senior in High School taking U.S. Government.
We followed the candidates, and I recall talking a little about it at home with my dad. I was 18, and I was so pumped to vote that November. Our class were the lucky ones to turn 18 the year of a presidential election.
But, November came and went and I was too busy being a young adult to go vote. Each year after that, I made excuses:
The voting location for my address is too far from where I work.
I don’t like any of the candidates this time.
I’m too busy.
I’m too pregnant.
My vote won’t count.
I’m not educated enough to choose the right person.
Etcetera. Etcetera. Etcetera.
Then, I took a humanities class while studying to become an elementary school teacher. I learned so much more about the world than I had in a very long time. Was it because I had just turned 30?
Still, I didn’t vote. Not in local elections. Not in state elections. Not for anything. I rarely voted on where to eat for lunch!
Then, due to my job, I moved to a different state (again) and had to transfer to a new school (again). I was this close to completing my degree—I only needed two reading classes and my internship year to graduate. The new school required 60 credits from them for me to earn my degree.
60? That’s a whole new degree plan. I thought very loudly to myself. So, I switched degree plans: Cultural Competency and Security Studies. This was when things got very real for me.
I had always advocated for keeping up with the news and current events, but that usually meant the 24-hour news channels on any cable or dish network. Y’know, the biased ones—the really biased ones. The ones that updated us every hour on the hour about the latest football player in rehab or the latest dirt on some celebrity-gone-bad. Sometimes, they’d inform us about a politician’s latest act of fraud. And if we were really lucky, they’d inform us about the latest meeting our Secretary of State had with the Prime Minister from some other country, or that a Russian warship was docked in Cuba’s harbor.
I learned where to find news from credible sources. I learned how our own national security affected and was affected by international security. I learned there is more to what the media had been feeding me. I learned the value in paying attention to what is going on all around the world and how it affects me on my own front porch as I sit on my swing and drink a glass of wine.
So, I say:
If you’re tired of the crappy, bumpy roads on your commute to work, vote.
If you wish your kids’ school had better curriculum, vote.
If you are ready for a change in the way your government spends your hard-earned income, vote.
Don’t wait as long as I did to figure it out. You don’t have to have any kind of degree. Educate yourself. Read the headlines at least. Go outside and take a look around. Notice different landmarks as you commute to work. Pay attention to people’s conversations.
What is the price of gasoline today? Is it different from yesterday? Why?
Are the fellow moms in your moms’ group complaining about the “new” method to do math?
Does Iran have the ability to design a nuclear weapon? Why does it matter to you in your cozy little community? (Because it does matter.)
The presidential election season is upon us. But don’t forget about your local and state elections. Make sure they hear what you have to say. Get out there and vote! Invite your friends to go with you. Wear that sticker proudly!
If I could go back to my 18-year-old self in November of 1996, I’d say, “Don’t forget what you learned. Go vote! And pay attention to the world outside of your little world. It matters, and it affects you. Every. Single. Day. Oh, and learn the Russian language.”
I’d then give myself a little wink and walk away.
Author: Kara Sue McWest
Editor: Toby Israel
Photo: Author’s Own