Around this time of year, when I was quite young, a car rolled slowly past our house with big round “loudspeakers” fastened to the roof, from which blared the voice of a man telling us who to vote for, a voice I heard even after the car rounded the corner and moved down the next block. It was quite a sight for a little kid, and the memory comes back to me every year around election time.
We cared a lot about elections back then. I remember the first televised presidential debate. Two of my uncles served on the Common Council. It certainly wasn’t a perfect system. Nobody thought a woman would or should want these jobs. Today, there’s been a female mayor, and the Council members are called alderpersons. There was certainly racism, sexism and antisemitism in the process. There were fist fights over union and municipal elections. I like to think it’s because people realized how important voting was.
My father wrote well-written letters about politics that were published in the Amsterdam (NY) Evening Recorder. They embarrassed my mother, who worried what people might think. His brothers convinced him to run for Fourth Ward alderman, but my mother feared the publicity. Still, they always voted and talked about the elections at home. They knew it mattered.
My mail-in ballot is already on file at the county board of elections. I have voted in every election since I was eligible. We had civics class in junior high, so I’ve always known it’s a right to cherish and I don’t take it for granted.
Which is why the morning news made me sad today. The story was that in midterm elections, only about 40% of eligible Americans vote. Many gave up due to barriers to voting in the past. And it’s not easy in some states even today. But voting in elections, whether local or national, is one of the few ways we can choose the direction of our society.
One year, I put out a yard sign for a friend running for township supervisor. My neighbors asked me about her since they didn’t know any of the candidates. Betsy won by four votes. Did I get her elected? Maybe. But it proved to me that voting matters. And so does talking about it.
The former first lady wore a jacket with the words “I really don’t care. Do you?”
Is this who we are now? Is it smart not to care? People interviewed on this morning’s news said they didn’t see how voting would affect their lives. One woman said she would not vote because she felt uninformed. How hard is it to find out what’s at stake in your local and state elections? Are we really that busy we can’t take the time? We have a gift here that most people in the world do not. We, the people, still have a say in who runs our government. For now.
Let’s not throw it away.