People have fought for the right to have a say in the laws that governor them since the very beginning of our nation. From a Revolutionary War and Civil War, to long marches and huge conventions, Americans were willing to do anything for their ability to vote.
In today’s age, it seems like this has changed. Although in 2019 we can say that all citizens are able to practice their right to vote, many do not. In fact, there are many eligible voters who don’t even register.
I found this concept troubling. Not because they are wasting a vote that so many fought for, but because those who don’t vote don’t understand the weight of their decision.
I read something once that said, “Not voting is actively handing power over to those whose interests are counter to your own, and those who would be very glad to take advantage of your absence. Not voting is for suckers.”
No one wants their life decided for them by someone else, and many of those who aren’t registered to vote simply do not understand the process or its importance.
I recently held a voter registration drive at the University of the Cumberlands in efforts to get people excited about taking part in the voting process; registration is the most important first step! Countless hours went into making baked goods, ordering stickers, gathering supplies, hanging poster, and folding pamphlets.
I made over well over 100 cookies and brownies, printed out over a hundred stickers, and folded over a hundred pamphlets (my granny even made a cheeseball).
However, at the end of the day I only gave out less than half of the food, maybe 10 stickers, and possibly four or five pamphlets.
Some may say that I was over-prepared, others may say that I was too optimistic. But I did everything right. I promoted it everywhere from this newspaper, to school campuses, to my own social media accounts.
It was my expectation that, even if my advertising didn’t draw a crowd, random people would be flooding in and out of the Boswell Campus Center and notice the free food. I thought they would be eager to fill out a form in exchange for a brownie or two.
I figured I would throw in a sticker too so that their friends would see it and ask where they got it. I just knew it would be exciting, people would notice others doing it and be quick to join in. I completely expected to run out of materials before the event was scheduled to end. I even warned in an announcement that it was “first come, first serve!”
But as I said before, I was wrong about what would happen. In fact, I misjudged people completely; turns out, you can’t even bribe them with free food.
As I sat there with my display in the first hour, I was so hopeful. My back was straight and I was smiling at everyone who walked in. Whenever someone took notice of my table I would ask the same question, “Are you registered to vote?”
Some would look and say nothing. Some would say no, but they were in a rush. I think my favorite response was, “not today.” I’m still not entirely sure what that meant, so I'm going to leave it up for interpretation.
Don’t get me wrong, I had people who did answer yes. However, I still find myself stuck on those individuals who said no, yet didn’t take action. The registration card was there, it was convenient, and the experience was quite literally rewarding. So what was the hold up?
Maybe it’s because the political word seems harsh or confusing right now. Maybe the process seems too complex to bother with. Maybe it seems like their vote won’t count anyway. It’s probably a combination of all of the above.
I have to admit, at first I was disgusted. I felt like I had completely wasted my time. I used too many resources, and I was incredibly naïve to think it would actually work.
Then I realized that, by thinking like that, I had adopted the very same attitude that keeps citizens from registering and voters from voting.
When we try to make a difference, we often don’t feel the impact right away. Our personal lives are already so hectic, never mind the added worry of maintaining a healthy civic life, especially if we feel like our efforts are in vain.
The frustration and neglect is understandable, but we can’t let this be America’s narrative. We have to rekindle the burning passion found in those who committed their lives for the vote. Civic life is dying, and you might not care, but our Representative Democracy needs it in order to thrive.
If we continue to excuse ourselves from playing our roles in government, who is going to fill in the roles for us? Someone will. Someone will be our voice, represent our ideas, and decide our best interest. Only, if we don’t vote, we won’t have any say in who that is; we won’t have a choice in the direction of our country.
That scares me, and it should scare you. It’s important that as a community, state, and nation, we collectively keep trying. I experienced a harsh reality that almost persuaded me to fall in line with everyone else and not vote, not to care what happened because I couldn’t do anything about it.
Even as I write this now, that idea sounds ridiculous. It’s easy to fall into that trap, I almost did myself, but you have to fight it. Every vote cast is nourishment to our democracy. Without our collective action, our nation may very well lose the civic virtue it was built from.
Nellie Ellis is a Whitley County High School student working as an intern at The Times-Tribune. Contact her at email@example.com.