Tania Gerard writes from Arizona. She is a Queer, Latinx, Community Organizer, and Congruency Coach who parents two wonderful kids.
Voting is your responsibility as a parent, as a citizen, as a decent person.
November can’t come soon enough. Although it’s just four months away as I write this, days have become elastic and unpredictable since we started lockdown in March.
My new morning routine includes looking at my kids, still asleep, and promising them that I will do what it takes to keep them safe, to offer them any semblance of a future where they can discover who they are, rebel by dying their hair blue and be safe in their wonderful, magical uniqueness.
Before COVID-19 slashed Arizona, I used to participate in advocacy days at my state’s Capitol. I attended protests, signed petitions, and circulated them with friends and neighbors. Now, I organize online events, call and text voters, explore creative ways to build contact-less, socially distanced community that can come together and voice our demand for a country where people can thrive and are not in danger just because of who they are.
If you note urgency in my tone it’s because it is there. I have read enough history to know that devastation doesn’t come from giant UFOs landing on buildings -it comes from the apathy of those who saw all the signs and decided to do nothing. Today,voting is one thing that you can do to prevent us from becoming a dark chapter in a book.
Voting is an Exercise of Agency.
Just like an engine, the spark that moves a society is the constant challenge of the structures by the individuals’ agency. These structures, aka “the System,” regulate the options that people can access through mechanisms like race, gender, class, ability, religion, etc. A person who can check the boxes that their community considers “best,” will have access to resources and the opportunity to decide how to use them.
In the light of Black Lives Matter movement, you might have heard about this access: we call it privilege. Privilege guarantees that an individual will be able to decide who makes executive decisions on the country’s resources. In other words, the board of director’s favorite people are the ones who choose the CEO for this business that we call our life.
Agency, on the other hand, is the capacity of each individual to act independently and choose what they want to do with the resources that they can access. The exercising of agency is how a person claims their body and mind and plants their stake on the ground: this is what I believe, this is what I need, this is what I offer.
This definition of agency is the epitome of American Freedom. It involves having the tool to exercise agency, the forum to express it, and the confidence that every voice will count. In America, people exercise their agency through the vote.
About Democracy and Shattered Ideals.
Imagine that you are in a sports arena. This event is only for people 18 and older. Anticipation and joy fill up the air. The voice in the megaphone instructs you to reach under your seat. You grab a beautiful, sparkling sphere, that whispers your personal values. In this image, that sphere is your vote.
High School kids all over the arena voice their discontent. The voice in the speaker replies “this is how we do things here.”
“If you have been in prison,” the voice continues, “smash your sphere on the ground because you will not be allowed to use it. This is how we do things here.” You start noticing a pattern. The people with a sphere in their hands smile in relief and show their sphere to each other, proud that they are holding it.
“Of course, only citizens have a sphere. If you are not, go back to where you came from!” The voice in the speaker declares. “This is how we do things here.”
When this first round ends, you notice that about 90% of people(*) hold a sphere in their hands. This is a good number! The voice continues: “Now you have to write your name on the list of people who will use the voice, also known as voters. The way to do it is hidden at the end of your row, under one of the last seats, and you have 5 minutes to do it.”
Amazingly, in these five minutes, people make every second count and help each other to find the list and write as many names as possible. High fives, smiles, a shared sense of accomplishment. However, you notice that some folks are leaving the arena. Only 64%(*) got to the list.
Next, people are told that there is only one day that they can use their sphere.
When you look around, you see some people putting the sphere back to its place with sadness. Some others smash it on the floor out of pure frustration.
The day comes, drop off locations are open for everyone who has a sphere. It’s Tuesday. People start making calculations in their minds. Could I take the day off work? Will my boss allow me to get later or leave earlier? Do I have enough money to pay for the bus ride to the drop off location?
Some people rush to the drop off location and don’t make it on time.
Some forget how lucky they are to have a voice.
Some are blocked in their way by angry people that are too scary to make it worth the effort.
That night, we learn that only half of the people who had a vote actually voted. We cross our fingers. We wait. We wonder. “How could this be different if more people got to voice their vote?”
(*) Percentages based on Voting and Registration in the Election of November 2016
As a parent, your job is to keep your children safe and healthy until they are able to do it themselves. It is also your responsibility to provide them with a future where they can discover who they are, and be safe in their wonderful, magical uniqueness.
If you are lucky enough to have a vote in 2020 in the United States, your job is to exercise agency. Your responsibility is to use your vote to speak for your children and all the other people who were not given a voice in the arena -or had theirs taken away.
As a person, your job is to write history. This is how we make history in 2020:
Be a role model for your children. Register to vote, research your candidates, engage in conversations, vote. And do all this with your children. Believe me, Democracy IS always age-appropriate.
Listen, process, repeat. As humans, we are gifted with the opportunity to evolve. Words that we hadn’t heard before are becoming a part of decent people’s vocabulary. Privilege. Race. Gender. Opportunity. Access.
Find books to read and speakers to listen to. Have meaningful conversations with your children. Show them that learning is a life-long process and that it’s worth the effort.
Make a family plan. These are always better when we do them with the ones we love. Make registering to vote and voting a fun family activity. Discuss a plan that involves everybody -even those under 18. Make a checklist with dates, post it on the fridge, and assign someone in charge of keeping track of your Family Voting Plan.
Make it a family value. Sometimes, we choose not to voice our agency because we feel that we won’t be heard. We have lost hope that what we think will make a difference in the decision-making table. We don’t speak up because we have been silent for so, so long, that we don’t know where to start. You, with your children, can make Democracy a family value. Of course, registering to vote and voting are the obvious expressions of this value. But they are not the only ones.
Exercise Democracy in your family by making sure everyone has a turn to voice their perspective. Make decisions as a family, with everyone’s wellbeing in mind. And practice, practice, practice. Just like life, Democracy is something we only master with time.
Voting as an Exercise of Control.
Years ago, when I watched The Walking Dead, I used to have nightmares about parenting in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. Now, I go to bed thankful that my children are healthy and that we made it through another day. When life seems to spin out of control, simple actions remind me that I still have agency in my life, that I still can do a few things to feel safe and hopeful.
Voting is one of those things. Please vote. For your children and mine.
- How to register to vote
- National Mail Voter Registration Form
- Visit your County Recorder’s Office website for information about voting dates and specifics for your county.
- Tomorrow We Vote University. Videos about political literacy for young adults.
- Voting Centers in all states (from Tomorrow We Vote website)