by Shannon Williams
Election Day was especially significant to me this year because it fell on my deceased mother’s birthday. Voting, particularly this year, was my way of honoring a woman who truly believed that one vote could make a difference. I remember once when I was younger, my mother taking me with her to vote. As I stood on my tip toes to see what she was doing, she quietly explained to me, “I’m voting for him because he believes in saving jobs,” she said of one candidate. “This lady gets my vote because she has been an advocate of the community for a long time,” my mother said of another candidate as she darkened the oval next to the person’s name.
On the ride home, my mother explained why it was so important to vote. She told me in order to have a voice in this world, you have to vote. And if you didn’t vote, you didn’t have a voice.
That brisk November day so many years ago has stayed in my mind. And on days like Nov. 2, I reminisced on the lesson that my mother taught me…it made Election Day that much more meaningful for me because I was doing something that I’d learned through example. And I was doing it on the birthday of the woman who taught me such an invaluable lesson.
As I received my ballot and made my way to the private voting table, I couldn’t help but chuckle as I began to fill in the ovals beside various candidates’ names. “I’m voting for him because he believes in saving jobs. I’m voting for her because she…” Just as my mom had done years ago, I reminded myself why I was voting for each candidate.
One day when I have my own children, I’ll do as my mother did and explain to them the importance of voting and why each particular candidate gets my vote. Doing so instills a sense of responsibility into the child. From when I was a child watching my mother vote, I knew my chance would come one day and when it did, it would be my responsibility to know why I voted for each candidate. It’s more than being of a particular political party—it’s about the issues and the people who best represent your views.
It’s amazing how over 20 years later, the reasons we vote for people can sometimes remain the same. Last Tuesday, I found myself voting for some of the very reasons my mom voted for two decades ago, which only proves that the challenges of yesterday are many of the same challenges we continue to face today. We continue to vote for the same issues and hope that the people we help to elect will actually implement positive change. It’s a gamble every time, but certainly a gamble I’m willing to take year after year.
As I stood in line on Election Day I was excited, almost giddy. You see, I understood how important it was for me to exercise my right to vote. I realized that there was once a time that such an act was forbidden for Blacks and women. So, as I stood in line, waiting to show my identification and sign my name, I couldn’t help but think of the countless people who died or endured tremendously harsh treatment just to be standing where I stood—just to vote.
After I cast my vote and was feeling rather good, I ran into someone I know. Of course me being me, I asked her if she voted. “No,” she told me rather matter-of-factly. When I asked if she planned on voting, she again said no. Upon further probing, this woman informed me that she wasn’t registered to vote. Since I’ve only recently met this woman, I thought maybe she was from another city and simply hadn’t updated her voter registration for this year’s midterm election. As our conversation continued, I learned that this 35-years-old woman has never voted.
I could not believe that I knew someone who has never voted—not even during the historic year that President Barack Obama was elected. As I provided this woman with unsolicited reasons why she needs to vote in the future, I promised her that I would personally bring her a voter registration form and help her complete it.
As we were parting ways, I asked her what she had planned for the remainder of the day.
“Oh, I’ve got to go get a new tire,” she said. “I hit a humongous pothole and both my tire and rim are messed up. The city really needs to do something about these streets—they are terrible on vehicles.”
Hmm…the lessons my mother taught me years ago were at the tip of my tongue.
“Well,” I told the lady. “Since you didn’t vote in this election, or the one that got our current city officials elected to office, you know you really don’t have a voice to complain.”
She stood there for a moment and I actually thought she was going to curse me or something. But instead she said rather thoughtfully, “Make sure you bring me that registration form.”
I excitedly replied, “Will do.”
And the seeds of knowledge have now grown within another person. When you know better, you do better.
Remember…knowledge is power. Pass it on.
(You can e-mail comments to Shannon Williams at Shannon.firstname.lastname@example.org.)