I know we can all agree that the presidential race this year has been…interesting, to use an extreme euphemism. But aside from the many concerns I have about the election itself and my personal thoughts about our esteemed candidates, something has become very apparent to me.
You know how there are some things you specifically remember being taught (baking, the Pythagorean Theorem), some things that you know were taught to you at some point, but you were so little you don’t remember the moment (your letters, tying your shoes), and some things you were never really taught because they were an integral part of the fabric of your life?
I don’t recall voting and elections ever being specifically explained to me; I’m sure I was curious at some point, and I’m sure someone answered my questions. But my experience of it ran deeper than a simple explanation – it was something that I had always known, always been familiar with, even if I had not always grasped exactly what it meant. As an American, voting is a fundamental aspect of a way of life; the words “candidates,” “elections” and “policies” were a part of my vocabulary from a young age.
As I grew older, I began to take more of an interest in voting for myself. I became more aware of the candidates, their platforms and the issues that democrats and republicans disagree so stridently about. I remember starting to form opinions, to sort through arguments, to determine where I fell on those all-important issues.
Even as the idea of voting became more prominent and more relevant to me, I realized just how much I take it for granted. It’s “the thing to do,” the thing I’ve always known about, the thing my parents did, the thing that I should partake in as an American. It doesn’t always compute how much of a privilege and a responsibility it is to be a part of this process.
Is my single vote going to change the world or redirect the nation? No. But I shouldn’t use this as an excuse to justify my own laziness and selfishness. I don’t always research the issues as well as I should; I’m not always careful to make sure my “facts” are correct, and I don’t always know where a particular candidate stands on an issue.
And that is to my shame.
Because this matters. Freedom matters. The Founding Fathers fought and struggled to secure it; Americans fight and die to protect it. This vote gives me a say, no matter how insignificant my individual contribution may seem, and when I fail to appreciate that voice, I am essentially casting aside the freedom that so many have sacrificed so much to give me.
I don’t think anyone would say that they don’t value that freedom; I don’t think anyone would argue that they wish they didn’t have a choice about how to worship or where to live or what career to pursue. And yet, when we fall into the “bread and circuses” mentality when we profit from the opportunities we have without fully appreciating them, when we participate in a system that lets us be heard without thinking through what we want to say, we are throwing that freedom down and trampling on it.
I’m not telling you who to vote for; I’m not even telling you to vote. I’m saying to you, and to myself, don’t be blind. Don’t be careless. Don’t forget that the ability to go to the polls and cast your vote is precious and priceless. Don’t lose sight of the valuable gift you’ve been given.