Why we must vote

Politics turn me off.
I am over political hashtags, know-it-all pundits, and 24-hour news channels. I am sick of nasty, misleading campaign ads that seize on snippets of information, take them out of context and use them to malign the opponent. And I am tired of meaningless campaign analysis about which voter bloc is important for which candidate and who will win the first presidential debate.
None of it interests me.
But I’m informing myself about the candidates and voting anyway. There are several reasons for this. First, and most simple of all, I am an American, and it is my duty as an American to vote if I am eligible. I hear a lot of talk about our rights as citizens of this country to free speech or to bear arms, but it seems the responsibilities that accompany these rights are often conveniently neglected. After all, this is the social contract we’ve entered into, isn’t it? We expect our leaders to protect our interests and freedoms as Americans, and we accept the responsibility of choosing the person who we think will best do this job. Voting in the presidential election is the smallest, easiest, and yet most effective way to do my civic duty.

Casting a vote is important for all U.S. citizens, but I would argue that it might be doubly so for women, given how hard-won this responsibility has been for our gender. It’s a little known fact that white, property-owning women were allowed to vote in many states when the U.S. was originally founded, but, ironically enough, this right was snatched away just as white male suffrage was made universal. The U.S. government did not legislate the right for all women to vote until 1920, after decades of organizing, demonstrating, and jailing of female activists. This doesn’t even touch upon how fiercely women of color have had to fight (and continue to—I’m looking at you Voter Registration Laws!) to make sure racist voting laws did not strip them of their suffrage.

Though I dislike the idea that women are a voting bloc that votes with one mind and one set of values, I do know that we are a large and influential enough group that both parties spend millions of campaign dollars wooing us. This year, both the Republican and Democratic national conventions aggressively courted female voters precisely because they know we are powerful. So why shouldn’t we realize this power and wield it? Though we are powerful enough to decide an election, we have not yet acquired the political representation we deserve. Women are roughly half of the country’s population, but only comprise 17% of the Senate and the Congress. Though we ladies don’t need to quit our day jobs and pick up a career in politics, we do need to flex our political muscles by casting a ballot whenever an election comes up. Voting is the first step to acknowledging our political clout and setting an example for our families and daughters that women can make a positive impact in the public sphere, whether by winning an election or voting in one.

A sense of responsibility to your democracy or gender is a perfectly lofty, ideal reason to vote. But let me appeal to your practical, self-serving side for a moment. Though Obama vs. Romney garners the most coverage, we are not just voting for president. When we walk into the voting booth, we also decide the outcomes for several other races and measures: campaigns for everything from mayors to senators, and ballots that affect everything from inheritance taxes to marijuana legalization. In fact, these smaller, less publicized races may matter much more because they directly affect local politics (and thus you and me) on a deeper and more immediate level than who is sitting behind the Oval Office desk.

For example, voting in a county commissioner who believes in a soda tax will determine how much you pay for a large Diet Coke at your local burger joint. Your vote for president will set the direction of the larger national and international policies of this country—things like whether we attack Iran and if we raise taxes for the wealthiest segments of society—but your vote for your Congress person will affect you in a different way: whether your child’s public school supplies healthier lunches or not and if the potholes on the road to your office are filled in.

On issues large and small, your vote is your voice. It empowers you to take control of your quality of life as an American, and possibly the lives of people around the world. So don’t be foolish enough to throw it away.

Fatemeh Fakhraie is a writer, editor, and the founder of Muslimah Media Watch. You can follow her on Twitter at @fatemehf. This article is part of the “Election 2012 – American Muslims VOTE!” series, which is running on Altmuslim at Patheos, Altmuslimah, Illume, and Aziz Poonawalla’snews and politics blog on Patheos. Click on this special topics page to view all articles in this series and add your comments. Tweet your thoughts on this article, on the series, and on the 2012 elections at #MuslimVOTE.

(Photo Credit: Mel Green)

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