Why are schools closed for voting?
They shouldn’t be. The same politicians who tell me to fix public education close school so they can put stickers on constituents? We’ve got work to do so we can beat Finland like the politicians want. They can’t close school.
Someone tells me it’s a safety issue–community members coming into the school. Ridiculous! I want the community feeling part of my school, seeing our victories saying, “How can I contribute?”
My students work with the community all the time. They organize blood and bone marrow drives, activities, do community service. They find mentors for senior projects. They go on co-op jobs, and bring in the community for parent night, talent night, games, and events.
Communities are part of successful schools.
Instead of closing school, bring people into school and showcase student achievement, especially on voting days when they’re going to think about opening up wallets to support those schools. Show taxpayers their victories and the return on investment for every dollar spent in that community school–build pools and tracks and gyms that the community can use, and make schools a hub for the whole town.
Or better yet, leave schools open on voting days and have those politicians and staffers who are busy standing fifty feet from the polls come into classes and visit with students to reengage them in the political system, because right now those students think their vote doesn’t matter.
They’ll vote on America’s Got Talent, but they won’t vote for you.
“Your Vote Doesn’t Matter”
Many of my students didn’t register to vote. “I’m working.” “My vote doesn’t matter.” “It’s not like they’re going do anything or fix the potholes.”
That’s true. I know of a pothole so big it’s the Rhode Island state mascot. It’s been preserved by the National Historic Register. There’s a bench on the side of the road where you can have a picnic lunch while waiting for your new oil pan to be flown in by an Amazon drone.
Nobody’s fixed health care, immigration, pay scale for women, education. Nobody’s put a band-aid on the suffering of the people who remain unemployed. All that’s true. Your one vote won’t do a thing unless it’s a very small election in a tiny town like mine.
“Your vote doesn’t matter,” I tell my students, “because we have a corrupt electoral system in a gerrymandered nation filled with nepotism.” They give me a blank stare. “Look those words up.”
“I always vote,” I say. They’re confused. “Even though there’s a lower possibility of my vote counting than me winning the lottery I don’t play… Lotteries are additional taxes,” I tell them. “Save or invest your money. Or give it to the guy on the street corner. It’ll do more good.”
“Why do you vote then?” they ask.
I have a good answer, one every near-voter must hear.
People all over the world–as we speak–are dying for a voice in their system. People protest, tweeting in squares, blog, form militias, fight powers, endure torture and die brutal deaths to get the right to put one single vote in the box.
What do I do for my rights? Nothing. I’m born into them. I just drink coffee and complain about politicians.
Women have gone to jail for my right to vote. Soldiers died. College students filled busses, crosses burned and people have been hung from trees. Families have been destroyed so every American adult can put their piece of paper, their voice, into the box without interference.
We are blessed, indeed.
“Will my one vote matter?” I ask. “Maybe not. But it symbolizes my power and responsibility to do more. Instead of hanging from trees we shout from the mountains. I don’t have to get on a bus for my right to vote, but I can take the shovel and fill that pothole myself. I show my gratitude to history by doing the work today presents.
I’m not waiting for a politician to solve my problems. We defeat unemployment by starting a company and giving a job to that guy down the street. We fix schools by teaching one student at a time and taking charge of our own lifeling education, and we use our grass-roots power to say “yes” the challenges that matter most, creating solutions for everyone.”
One person has that power, even if one vote does not.
My vote will never be wasted. I will not be silenced.
I vote in honor of those who fight to vote with far more courage than I–people who refuse to be silenced despite danger and sacrifice. I speak from the safety and shelter of a system that allows me to say what I want, write what I feel, and be who I want to be. I vote in honor of those who do not.
I vote in honor of every soldier who’s served this nation to ensure I retain my right to vote and live a life where sadly, people take freedom, voting, and safety for granted.
I vote in honor of those who lost their jobs and livelihoods so I can put a ballot in a box.
Every time I pull the lever of privilege, I think of those who can’t–of those who sit–or have sat–in jails, beaten and bloodied, those who have died, and those who have waited their entire lives to be counted and heard.
I vote in honor of them.
I hope the person who this next election appreciates that and gets the job done. But it doesn’t matter if they don’t, because I will. The real power–the real voice–is mine. I vote because it’s critical to remember my power and responsibility from time to time.
So on voting day, I’ll relax and drink coffee, get dressed, and head to the polls.
I’ll take an extra moment in the voting booth–I’m not being rude, there won’t be a line. I’ll say a prayer of gratitude to those who have fought for my rights, and send good thoughts to those who have none. I’ll remember not to take the power of my voice for granted. Then I’ll exit the booth, and go back into the world we all need to change.
This time, I’ll pick up my shovel.
[photo credit: Ranjit Bhaskar, Al Jazeera English]