Blot the Vote Post – You Need to Vote … My First Grader Did

UPDATED to include all appropriate links.

Blog the Vote is a one-day, online event where bloggers are taking a moment from their usual topics to talk about the importance of voting. Gregory K. Lee Wind and Colleen Mondor conceived the idea of a blog-wide event to share our thoughts on the importance of voting. Colleen is corralling all of the posts in a master list . Visit Blog the Vote 2008 at Chasing Ray.

When I first started thinking about Blog the Vote, I thought I would talk about our review of Declare Yourself: Speak. Connect. Act. Vote and Madam President. We are all about books, and that seemed like a logical idea. But as I thought about why I think every eligible citizen needs to vote – this year and every year – I strayed from books. The chance to read book reviews comes along every day, voting doesn’t. Exercising your right to vote is as important as knowing how to read: it is a personal as it is vital. So here goes …

My first memories of elections and voting came in 1972, when who our parents were voting for determined who would pick us for their dodge ball team. It was the summer I turned nine. Did I understand the issues? Not really. Did I pay more attention to discussions at the dinner table? Oh, yeah. I needed to know if I would have any friends to play with!

For my daughter, those first memories of elections will likely be 2008. Last spring her Kindergarten class read the Time for Kids issue that introduced Senator Barack Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton as presidential candidates. She remembers who they are and is quick to identify them when she sees a newspaper photo or television ad. She knows they want the job of running the United States of America. Does she understand the issues? No. Does she understand political parties? No. Does she understand the concept of voting? Yes! At six, she formulated her own ideas about why a particular candidate should be president. Are they the criteria adults use? No, but she can explain what’s important to her in a leader.

Last week, some folks from the local wildlife center visited her K/1 class. The kids saw some animals up close and learned about endangered species, including manatees. Our daughter came home from school with a list (ballot) of manatees. She had to pick (nominate) one. Then her class would decide who to adopt (vote). Together, we read through their biographies (qualifications). After some thought – and a first-grader’s rationale (“he looks cute”) – she chose her favorite: Whiskers. On Wednesday, her first words to me were not “Hi, Mom.” They were “We voted for Deep Dent. Whiskers didn’t win.” In that simple exercise, 10 first graders and 10 Kindergartners learned that each person has a voice, that they need to have information to make an informed decision, and that they can decide for themselves … without someone telling them what choice to make.

My daughter will be able to vote in her first presidential election in 2020. Between now and then, she’ll have more chances to vote, and over time the elections will be bigger and more meaningful than picking a class manatee. With each cycle, she’ll learn a little more and understand what it means to be an informed person. Along the way, we hope she’ll see that voting is part of her personal power. She will go with us to the voting booth on Election Day, the same as she has since she was three. We hope to show her that the only way to demonstrate your belief in free speech, fairness, and equality is to vote.

Voting is more than a privilege. It is an obligation of citizenship. If you do not vote, then you freely gave up your right to complain, criticize, celebrate, congratulate or debate with our elected officials, their ideas, their laws, their treaties, and the results. The founding fathers gave it to you, and you threw it away. Be there or be quiet.

I hope I you Tuesday at the polls. I’ll be the one with a child, reading a book about a little girl who imagines what her jobs will be when she is president!

“Half of the American people never read a newspaper. Half never voted for President. One hopes it is the same half.” Gore Vidal