Recently I took Uber from San Jose to San Francisco. The driver was a 31 year old black guy who had endured a rocky home life in Arizona and California. I usually don’t talk politics with someone I don’t know, but made an exception in his case. When I asked him what he thought of the last election, he told me that he didn’t vote. He didn’t like either presidential candidate. I suspect he wasn’t alone in that perception.
However, he then told me that he has never voted! “What?” I screamed inside my head. Never voted? Outside my head I calmly asked if he is registered to vote. Just as calmly he replied that he didn’t know whether or not he was registered. And, he continued, he didn’t see the purpose in registering.
And so I began as gently as possible to explain to this otherwise intelligent man that it is important to vote, even if you don’t favor one presidential candidate over another. I explained that there are other candidates on the ballot, like federal and state legislators, governors, county officials, boards of education, judges. All the people elected to these offices can influence how you live your life by making laws, rules, or judgments that effect you. I gave some examples like health care. Did he have health insurance? No, of course not, it’s expensive and he’s healthy, he explained. So then he got an example of what he could be up against if we were unexpectedly in a bad car accident. It might be that the legislators who want to represent him would be in favor of legislation that would make health insurance and care more affordable for him.
As we were drawing near my destination, I explained how to find out where he could register to vote, and articulated a brief lecture on the importance of making one’s voice heard in the public arena, and the personal benefits of having some influence over one’s future. I wished him well, and we parted company. I don’t know whether or not he was persuaded by our exchange. But I am left with unease.
How many more people are out there who see no purpose in taking part in our democracy? What has happened that our school systems are no longer educating students to engage in shaping their future and the future of the country they live in? How in the world can we have a functional democracy if we don’t have an educated populace? Some might argue that one vote, one phone call, one meeting with a legislator is not going to effect their future. That might be true if every one thought and acted that way. But what if hundreds and hundreds of individuals took it upon themselves to participate by voting, meeting, phoning legislators, friends and neighbors? Surely that would make a difference? I think so.
So here I go, with my hair on fire, to contact everyone I know, including my grandchildren, to inquire about their voting registration, and to make the case for voting not only in November, but it every election. And then to ask each of them to contact at least 3 people they know with a similar request. It’s a pyramid scheme, you see, to help reinstate a functioning democracy. I challenge the reader to join in the effort; call three people you know today! Together we can make a difference.