Cherishing My Vote
I first thought about writing this post last summer as we were approaching the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, whose passage in August 1920 gave American women the right to vote. Wouldn’t it be nice, I thought, to observe the amendment’s anniversary with a personal commentary on what the vote has meant to me, as I live out the legacy of grandmothers and my mother and as I was musing on what it will mean to my two daughters? High-minded stuff. Reflective musings on how far women have come and what’s within reach, especially given the growing influence of women in politics. An expression of encouragement from a position of relative optimism, reinforcing the importance of every vote in a time when I was hearing more and more people questioning the importance of voting, to the point of opting out entirely.
What a difference a year makes. COVID-19 has killed 220 thousand Americans and the infection rate continues to climb, ravaging our nation. Our economy is being crippled, with entire industries at risk of going belly-up and record numbers of Americans filing for unemployment for the first time. And the gender gap is sadly increasing, as more women than men have lost their jobs because of the pandemic. Millions are living in constant uncertainty, wondering how they will provide for themselves and their families.
And it’s not just COVID-19 driving this sense of unease. Fires rage on the west coast, a devastating “Derecho” and summer flooding strike the Midwest, a record number of hurricanes pound our southern coasts. Importantly, racial inequality, particularly in how the law is applied to black and brown Americans, has reasserted itself as an issue that we’ve never gotten right. Even when we changed the constitution to allow women to vote, it was by white women turning their backs on their sister suffragists of color like Marie Louise Bottineau Baldwin, Dr. Mabel Ping-Hua Lee and Nina Otero-Warren. And voter suppression is not only alive and well but taking on increasingly insidious forms. So things have felt chillingly volatile and menacing in 2020.
Yet we endure. And voting, which Thomas Paine famously described as “the right upon which all other rights are dependent,” is where we’re showing that our endurance can’t be conquered.
We’re voting in unprecedented numbers this year. People who never prioritized voting in past elections are zealously doing so this year. And those who once claimed that one vote doesn’t matter have embraced the concept of strength in numbers and are urging their relatives, friends and neighbors to join them in casting their ballots.
This passion at the national level fills me with joy and hope. But in thinking about how to truly “cherish my vote” and not lose hope for future votes, I force myself to remember first and foremost that all politics is local, as the late Tip O’Neill opined, and there is much more we can do with our votes than deciding who will fill the big national offices. We get to weigh in on topics as diverse as state tax reform and who will serve as our mayors or sheriffs. Each vote affects things like who sits on our school boards and what amendments are made to our state constitutions. Wouldn’t it be amazing if the enthusiasm we have for the current general election spilled over into local elections for alderman, medical examiner, judge, commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, and village clerk?
And how do we decide what people and issues get our votes? That requires research and critical thinking, but today there’s a wealth of information publicly available to help us figure out which candidates are most aligned with our personal priorities and values and which issues matter most in our individual lives. Read up on candidates’ voting records as well as their stated positions on key issues. Learn about their qualifications and who endorses them. Attend a town hall where they’re speaking, whether in person, by video or telephone. My Mom, a lawyer, always has the Illinois Bar Association’s list of qualified judges, so I cross-reference that against the IVI-IPO (Independent Voters of Illinois – Independent Precinct Organization) and other sources when I’m figuring out who to vote for in our county judicial races. Being an informed voter requires going beyond political parties, campaign slogans, and how a candidate looks and comes across on TV. But the effort is always worth it.
We’ve been a divided nation for much of our history, along all sorts of class, race, gender, religious, economic, education and ideological lines. But one area that unites us as Americans is the supreme right of suffrage, a right many people fought long and hard to secure for us. Our vote is our voice, and each of us has an equal say in who will be the leaders of our nation, states and local communities. Every vote, in every election, matters. Cherish that power and use it wisely.
Note: If you haven’t already voted, check out the AT intranet for a helpful guide to making your decisions and casting your ballot. Compiled by our DE&I committee, it’s a great all-in-one-place reference.