This was my answer when asked about my opinion during an election. I saw politics as a sticky, confusing world. An exclusive party I wasn’t invited to. Something foreign that didn’t really impact my life. Politics? Nope. Not for me.
Y’all… I was so wrong.
I have a confession to make. I did not vote in the 2012 Presidential Election.
I didn’t care. I didn’t believe my vote mattered. I was the poster-child for apathy. Regardless of who was elected, I planned on doing whatever I wanted to anyway (ahem…privilege much?) So why would I care about a government that didn’t care about me? A government that I didn’t even trust?! Well, I’d like to give my younger self a talkin’-to (as we say in Texas), because that is the exact reason why I am so involved in politics now. I still don’t trust the government. But the government needs to hear what I have to say. The government needs to care about what I have to say.
I never intended to be politically active. But then I heard about this guy named Bernie Sanders. Disclaimer: This is not a blog post about Bernie (even though I could write about him for days… mostly love letters). This post is about finding a political catalyst that gets you and your children involved. Senator Sanders was my catalyst. Listening to him speak was the first time I heard a politician talk passionately about issues I’m passionate about. It was the first time I trusted someone running for president. I finally felt like my voice was represented. Suddenly, I wanted to learn more about the ins-and-outs of American politics. I wanted to be informed and involved. I wanted to fight within the system to change the system. I wanted my voice to be heard because I remembered that my voice matters. Shout out to my main man, Bernie, for reminding me of that.
When I was a kid and I didn’t get what I wanted, I would holler, “THIS IS NOT FAIR!” After an extended tantrum, my parents would inevitably tell me, “Life isn’t fair, Hannah. That’s just how it is.” I had to suck it up and move on. This is my allegory for American politics. People complain about the state of our country and feel powerless to change it. Because that's just how it is. We have to accept it.
Except, it's not “just how it is.” And no, we do not have to accept it.
But is that what we are teaching our youth?
I think we can all agree that we want our children to believe their voice matters.
Whenever I teach a rule at Go Girls! Camp, I always end it by asking the same thing, “Why do you think this is a rule?” This gives the girls a chance to connect personally with a given expectation and understand the reasoning behind it. “Because I said so” is not a valid reason to do or not do anything. That teaches youth to follow rules (and eventually government policies!) blindly, with an attitude of “that's just the way it is.” This scares the hell out of me. It is our responsibility to help young people explore what they believe to be right. That means conversing about issues. That means allowing space at home to build personal morality through honest discussion. That means teaching our children to assess systems and actions with one powerful question: “Why?”
We all have issues that we care more deeply about than others. I care about girls. I care about ending systematic racism. I care about education. But all that caring means nothing if I don’t DO something about it. After we help young people discover what they care about, we need to encourage them to fight politically for what they believe matters. This can mean organizing, protesting, petitioning, joining/creating activist groups, and/or writing to local representatives. Last summer, after discussing environmental issues at Go Girls! Camp, over 100 Go Girls! wrote to Senator Barbara Boxer about protecting the redwoods and making clean water a priority. Guess what? She wrote back to every single girl, and commended them for speaking up for what they believe in. How cool is that? When we teach children to engage politically, we say through action, “Your views matter. Your beliefs matter. YOU matter.”
Let us not forget… kids learn by example. They learn more from an ounce of behavior than a pound of words.
Go vote. No, seriously. VOTE.
And I’m not talking about only voting in the flashy, media-frenzy zoo that is this presidential election. It feels like a Hollywood action film, doesn’t it? Lots of explosions and chase scenes and terrible acting and product placement and a HUGE budget. But I digress. What I’m talking about is voting in local elections, which are like those independent movies that touch your soul, that teach you something, that actually change something about how you see the world. Local government affects so much of our daily lives. Public school systems. Infrastructure. State taxes. State laws. There are 17 measures for new laws on the California ballot this year! And 650 local measures all over the state! If the people (you!) don’t show up to vote, the laws will not reflect the views of the actual community. Representatives will not be representative of the actual people. Bring your children with you to the polls and explain to them you are voting because your voice matters.
Get out there. Get active. Get your kids involved early. And let’s create an apathy-free America together. When we get the youth informed and activated politically, I believe we can make America great….in my view, for the first time ever.
This is Post #21 in 44 Days of YES! - a series of posts for Girl Advocates who know that empowering girls means we must empower ourselves first. Sign up for free inspiration, practical YES! hacks, and connection to other Girl Advocates just like you.