Teaching civic engagement

Awhile back, I had dinner with a couple friends from out of town. Over pasta we discussed Oklahoma political issues. One of my friends declared he had never voted for any tax increase. I turned to my other friend and said “How about you?” to which he replied, “I’ve never voted for a tax increase either—and I haven’t voted against one. I don’t vote. Never have. Never will.”

I was surprised. He is an intelligent guy. Holds an important position. Yet, he never votes? “Why?” I asked, a little incredulous. “It doesn’t make any difference” was his reply.

white and grey voting day sign

Photo by Element5 Digital on Pexels.com

As a lawyer, I argued for 34 years, but I have learned not to argue with people about stuff like this. I’ve found you seldom convince people in political arguments. But it did dismay me to think of an intelligent, thoughtful person choosing never to vote.
I always vote even though I understand, at times, my vote probably does not make much difference. I have a sense of responsibility instilled in me by my parents who, likewise, always voted.

I remember the first time I went with my Dad to our local polling place. I was probably about 5 years old and Dad let me go with him into the “voting booth”. In those days you stepped into a small area surrounded by a curtain. When you moved a large lever, right to left, it closed the curtain and assured your privacy. Once inside you faced a machine with lots of little levers by candidate names. Dad let me help him cast his vote by pointing at which levers I should push down. When we finished Dad moved the large lever left to right, locking in our vote and, with a whoosh, opening the curtain. I did it! I voted in my first election at the age of 5! I don’t know if Dad and I violated any voter laws that day. The polling place official didn’t seem to mind or notice. But that experience cemented in my mind and heart the responsibility to vote.

Years later, when I was 17, there was a presidential election and my Dad announced at supper one night he was not going to vote. He didn’t like either major candidate and said he was not going to participate. I was shocked. My father was neither a quitter nor apathetic. I began to argue with him, “But you HAVE to vote!—even if you don’t like the lesser of the two evils, you have to vote for him. If you don’t, it’s like voting for the other guy you dislike even more!”

Dad seemed to mull this. Finally, he quietly conceded I was right. He said he would hold his nose and vote. Again I was shocked. I had actually persuaded my Dad? This was a first!

I’m not sure I actually persuaded him though. I think I just reminded him what he had taught me back when I was 5 and took me inside that voting booth. He taught me we have a responsibility to vote even when it doesn’t feel like it makes a difference. Because sometimes it does make a difference. That’s what we need to teach our children and that’s what we need to model for them.

That’s what I should have told my friend at dinner that night. Maybe I’ll send him a copy of this blog.

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