I know someone who used to travel to newly-democratized countries to help with their first elections. In one instance, he was asked to wear a bulletproof vest, just as a precaution. He refused, realizing that the line-ups of people at the polling stations had taken great pains to get there, and he didn’t want to do anything to intimidate or frighten them. I was fairly young when he told me this story, and honestly, before that, I don’t think I gave much thought to how many people didn’t get to vote, to how precarious rights and freedoms are. His story made an impact on my mushy young mind, and any time there’s an election, it pops back up again.
The story comes to mind when it’s announced that somewhere women have been given the vote. It’s easy to be smug about women having greater equality in my neck of the woods, but really, we haven’t been allowed to vote here for that long either. Only a handful of generations have passed since it was thought that females participating in politics might destroy the family unit, maybe even society in general.
I think of it whenever I meet someone who’s new to the country and just getting settled in, or a teenager who’s just jumped over the line into adulthood and is now allowed to cast a ballot.
Most of all, I think of the story whenever I encounter someone who simply isn’t interested in voting. Sometimes it’s because they can’t be bothered, because they don’t know which party believes in what, because they don’t feel properly represented, or because they’re convinced that statistically, their vote doesn’t matter. Yeah, I feel some of this sometimes too. Democracy is a far-from-perfect system, and it’s easy to feel like a tiny fish in the big sea of the voting population.
But I always come back to the notion that someone, somewhere had to stick their foot in it to be allowed to participate in the decisions made for their society. Somebody got thrown in jail, somebody got ostracized, and somebody got killed. Human beings had to argue that they were indeed human beings in order to be let into the fold. Someone I know was told to wear body armour in order to help the process along. I hear their collective cringe with every miserable statistic about low voter turn-out.
Voting is free. You might have to read a few articles or look a few things up on a website in order to get yourself up to date on who’s who, but other than that, it doesn’t take a ton of effort. As far as time commitment goes, you’ll likely stand in line at Starbucks longer than you’ll stand in line to vote. Shame on you if you like someone’s baby pictures on Facebook, or voice your opinions about what a celebrity is wearing, but you don’t bother to give your opinion where it really counts.
There are people out there right now campaigning to get your attention, so you’ll let them represent you when big stuff gets decided. If you don’t vote for the same one as last time, fine. If your choice differs from your friends and family, cool. Just pick someone already! You won’t even need to wear a bullet-proof vest to do so.