It was a hassle.
Several days ago after three drive-by trips to see how long the lines were, I voted. For whatever reason, it seems as if voting this year is fraught with difficulty, at least in my state.
Two weeks early after hearing we could vote early, I decided to use this convenience, in years past relying on my flexible schedule to vote on election day itself. So, on a beautiful Saturday afternoon my husband and I drove to our neighborhood library, the early voting location, and immediately realized our ignorance. The parking lot was completely full and the line to vote extended out of the building, perhaps around 30 or 40 yards long (short, I realize by the standards of other places such as Ohio and Pennsylvania). Still, the line was long enough that a coffee vendor had been induced to sell coffee and hot chocolate to those willing to wait to accomplish their civic duty.
We, on the other hand, decided to try again. Surely fewer people would vote Sunday, we reasoned. A second drive-by suggested we know little about our neighborhood’s voting patterns because the exact same scenario was enacted the following afternoon, perhaps the warm sunshine enticing many to while away an afternoon in line.
One thing was clear: we desperately needed to enact a new plan.
After spending much of my day on campus Monday, I stopped by to check out the possibility of voting on my way home (now no longer so certain of the ease of contributing to our democratic process) to find a long line still extending into the parking lot. Having failed to muster the patience needed to wait, I left again, wondering if I should simply give up voting early and carve out time on Tuesday, like so many others.
One last drive by a day later, however, revealed a different scenario: no long line! I quickly pulled into the parking lot, located my voting card and dashed inside, almost giddy at this turn of good fortune. Twenty minutes later I could proudly wear my “I voted” sticker and prove to everyone my civic dedication.
Except for this one little caveat. In reality, I’ve not lived up to the vision and dedication of the many women who fought with every ounce of their beings so that I can cast my ballot and participate in our democratic process.
To be sure, this voting cycle has had more than its share of frustrations: the egregious amount of money spent; the attempts to disenfranchise voters; the prevalence of negative ads; the incessant campaigning cycle that is now our reality; the prominence of super pacs and their lack of transparency. And the list goes on.
It is easy to see how someone could become distrustful of the whole system, deciding personal involvement simply isn’t worth it. Or concluding a single vote hardly counts. I often feel this way, too.
And then I remember: women organized, went to prison, suffered, protested for hours in the cold, and some even died so that I can have the privilege of voting. If I fail to exercise the right others labored so hard to achieve, I am dishonoring their lives, their commitments, their sacrifices.
While we live in a country that claims to value the individual and the rights of all persons, we know this isn’t always the case. Women and African Americans were excluded from voting privileges and it wasn’t without hard-fought battles that we now participate in our representative system, even as under- represented groups.
But democracy only works when people understand citizenship is not only a privilege but also a responsibility. And, for those of us who represent groups who have fought even harder to obtain these rights, how can we dishonor the lives of those who went before us, clearing the path we now trod?
So, for all of you women out there, maybe this is the year to turn off election night coverage in favor of watching a powerful film about the arduous journey made on our behalf. Iron Jawed Angels starring Hilary Swank will provide a small glimpse of why you should vote and why I should be willing to stand in line all day long and more to cast my vote.
Thank you to the amazing women who made it possible for women to vote: Alice Paul, Lucy Burns, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, Frances Willard, and Sojourner Truth, among others.