"My vote doesn't matter."
It's a phrase that cuts to the core of all of us who are heavily invested in this year's 2016 presidential election. It is that feeling of apathy, of hopelessness, that has led to the current state of politics in America today. With more and more people feeling their vote simply doesn't matter, we now have two houses of Republican-controlled government as well as thirty-one Republican governors despite the fact that our country is gradually shifting toward the political left. We have gone from significant progressive legislation being passed under the 111th Congress from 2009 to 2011 to an historically unproductive Congress a mere four years later. Republican candidates today are still running on a platform of failed economic policies and disastrous foreign policy objectives that have proven to be ineffective time and time again. Yet despite this Republican obstruction and a clear lack of new ideas, there will be no public pressure to oust any of these Republican candidates who have failed in their most basic promise to improve the livelihood of their constituents.
And that, in itself, is a threat to our democracy.
Because a democracy thrives when its citizenry is engaged. When public discourse and discussion are commonplace. When broaching a political topic at the dinner table is seen as being a sign of enlightenment rather than a taboo. When viewing of the nightly news is seen as commonplace. When public schools not only require its students to take a government course but also offer additional electives in the social science field. When it's more than simply barbershops and community centers where people feel comfortable enough to share their political opinions without being silenced.
Currently, the political environment in this country has become so toxic that many of us struggle to find places where we can openly share our political thoughts and ideas. Outside of online arenas, there remain very few places where a person can share his or her political opinions without fear of being judged or ostracized. With that happening to someone who actually cares about the issues, one can only imagine why those who don't share that same passion don't feel compelled to get involved.
But by not being involved, these folks have unwillingly become a part of the political process.
Because to not vote is a political statement in itself. Not voting in any local, state, or national election means that you are perfectly satisfied with your life and you don't believe there is any way to improve our country whatsoever. By not voting you are saying that you are perfectly content with your own healthcare, your own wages, your own taxes, your own professional opportunities, and your own ability to manage debt. You are also saying that you are perfectly content with your own community's policing, educational opportunities, upholding of civil rights, public infrastructure, treatment of homeless veterans, drug policy, and fiscal budget. If someone truly feels that everything mentioned is absolutely perfect in their town or city then by all means they are more than welcome to withhold their vote as a show of solidarity for their utopian community. However, one gets the feeling that if given the choice, 99.9999% of citizens today would be able to find at least one thing they would like to improve in their daily lives and their home communities.
So, your vote actually does matter.
It matters if you're a student currently being crushed by student debt. It matters if you're a senior citizen being hurt by the high price of prescription drugs. It matters if you're an environmentalist who not only acknowledges climate change but also sees it as a threat to our national security. It matters if you're among the 20 million Americans who have benefitted from the Affordable Care Act and would like to see the program both continued and expanded. It matters if you're of conscription-age and don't want to end up being sent to another quagmire in the Middle East. It matters if you're a member of the LGBT community and would like to see equal rights for yourself and all your LGBT brothers and sisters. It matters if you're one of the three million low-income Americans whose current Republican governor is denying them Medicaid simply for political gain. It matters if you're a blue collar worker whose current city mayor refuses to raise the minimum wage. It matters if you're a person of color whose current sheriff has refused to address ongoing issues of racial profiling in your community. And it matters if you're a parent whose current school board members insist upon adopting textbooks that whitewash American history to try and shield our children from our nation's unpleasant past.
So yes, your vote matters. Your vote matters because YOU matter whether your elected officials acknowledge that or not. If you feel your elected official has met every single one of your expectations, by all means go out and support him or her again with your vote. If your feel your elected official has not met your expectations, by all means research his or her opponents and find someone who better fits your values. Realize there will be no perfect candidate because there is no perfect person. Candidates all have flaws just like you or me. But you're not voting on perfection; you're voting on representation. Your sacred vote, which is the basis of our democracy, represents the candidate that you feel best represents you and your values. You may not agree with everything, or even most things a particular candidate stands for. But if there is even one small thing in your life that you feel could be improved, then you have no reason not to vote. It is that vote, that singular vote, that tells your elected officials that you, as a constituent, expect them to represent you and your values at whatever level of government they might serve. It is your vote and the votes of others that hold them accountable in all that they do. As elected officials, it is their job to improve the quality of life for all citizens and if that doesn't happen, then there's no reason to re-elect them the next time around. The only way to hold these elected officials accountable is to go out and vote and have your voice heard at every single opportunity. Because to not vote is an implied way of saying that everything is perfect.
And as we all know, that simply isn't the case.
"My vote doesn't matter."