“I don’t know who to vote for.”
“I don’t like any of the candidates.”
“My vote won’t count.”
These excuses were familiar to me, but, whenever I staged mock elections in November at Trenton High, I heard another one. “I don’t vote. I don’t want to give up my power.”
That voting meant giving up one’s power made no sense to me. Wasn’t America founded on the power of the vote? For years, when at least one student invariably gave this excuse, I struggled to understand. Occasionally, a small voice asked, “Do you think there will ever be a black president?” Finally, I developed a theory: some black people are so resentful of our racist history that they boycott the white man’s system of government.
The first time I heard “I don’t want to give up my power,” I consulted a black colleague. She was surprised—and angry. She came to my class and lectured the student about the sacrifices of black Americans who’d struggled for the right to vote. Had Martin Luther King, Jr. given his life in vain?
When our problem child remained adamant, my colleague and I worked out a skit to illustrate that issues important to black people were being decided without their voice. I played the bad white guy, voting for “laws” that repressed black folk. She used her vote to counter mine. Still, the child balked. Issues meant nothing. Finally, we resorted to a basketball analogy: to vote is to shoot for a basket. You might not make it, but it’s worth a try. If you don’t shoot, the other team’s sure to win. The student would give in to shut us up, but we knew he wasn’t convinced. That’s why I was thrilled when Obama was elected. A black president might help mend the wounded egos and restore faith in the system.
As a member of the League of Women Voters, I believe in voting. Votes do count. Perhaps my candidate won’t win, but he or she has a better chance with my vote than without it. Even a shoo-in candidate can lose if supporters don’t bother to vote. To those who don’t know whom to vote for, I offer the League’s voters’ guides and debates and suggest checking the voting records of incumbents and the platforms of all. Voting is our responsibility—even if it’s choosing the lesser of two evils.