When I was younger, I shied away from politics and related discussions. Part of my reticence stemmed from not fully understanding the political process and feeling ill-equipped to hold my own in a fierce debate on the issues. I also hadn’t examined my own political feelings, and though I could name the major players in my political party, I didn’t feel that I could support my stance.
And so I watched election seasons come and go with little attention paid. Sure, I voted in the national elections every four years but until recently, I was hard pressed to even define what Congress did, much less support the leaders in the Capitol.
That all changed for me after the Virginia Tech shootings.
In April 2007, 32 college students were brutally murdered by a mentally unstable fellow student. I watched with the rest of the nation in horror as pundits spouted about gun control, campus safety, and the state of mental health services in our country. I wept when I saw the pictures of the fresh-faced victims and I wondered how our country, yet again, seemed so broken.
I worried about my son who was about to enter kindergarten. Who would protect him against a mad man at his elementary school? What services did my community offer the mentally ill? Where did my local tax dollars go, exactly? Shamefully, I had no idea, but I was determined to find out.
As luck would have it, a local politician was hosting a pancake breakfast meet-and-greet the following week and I decided to go. I arranged a babysitter, and as I walked into the fire hall, I became nervous. Who was I to question a government official? Who was I to challenge the system or rock the boat? What right did I have to disturb a perfectly lovely pancake breakfast with my questions about guns and school safety?
I was a mother looking to protect my children, that’s who I was.
I was a woman who’d finally faced her fears of appearing ignorant on social issues, that’s who.
And I was a citizen of a country whose forefathers had fought and died for my right to strap on a set of balls and show up to ask about something I believed in.
So, as I poured syrup onto my pancakes and creamer into my coffee at a rickety, plastic-clothed table in that crowded fire hall, I listened. And I waited for my turn. When the representative took my question, I was timid at first. I nervously stood up, and as I twisted my wedding rings on my hand, I looked around the room that was filled with everyday people just like me. I found my voice, and I asked that politician what, exactly, he was going to do to protect my son in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings. I felt a little like Wonder Woman.
To his credit, he answered me directly and honestly. He spoke about limited funds and red tape, about law enforcement budgets and about party differences. He didn’t have all the answers that day, but I felt listened to and that was enough for me. When, at the end of the breakfast, the representative introduced me to the local fire chief, I was heartened to be given an explanation of the tactical responses in place for our elementary students. The chief showed us the school blueprints he stowed in his trunk, and he looked me in the eye and promised he’d protect my son.
I left that breakfast feeling full — not of pancakes but of power. I was empowered that day, and in the fall, that local politician received the first vote I ever cast in a local election.
And that is why I vote. Not to fight, not to chastise, not to tear down the other party’s ideals. I vote not because everyone says I should but because it makes me feel in control of a turbulent political climate. When I hear political rhetoric on the news that makes me sick, I swallow the bile in my throat because I know I have a voice that can be heard with a swing of a lever. I vote because members of my school board and local representatives shop in the same grocery store I frequent. I vote because, at the end of the day, we are all just people. We are the people, just like the Constitution says.
I vote because I am no longer that scared, unsure woman I was so many years ago.
I vote because it wasn’t that long ago that women didn’t have the right to show up to the polls and voice their opinions.
I vote because I believe in my convictions, and I no longer hide in my cocktail glass when discussions turn to politics.
I vote because I feel like a superhero when the curtains open and my vote has been collected.
Whatever you have to do, find a babysitter, take your kids along, give up your lunch break, go VOTE in November.