By Jasper Gain
The first time I voted was earlier this year in the 2020 primaries, and I remember being extremely nervous. There I was in my early 20s, an outspoken advocate for women’s rights and I had never voted in my life. Before then, I didn’t understand how to register or where to vote, and I was embarrassed to admit that to others when asking for help. This year, I realized how crucial it was to figure out and participate in the electoral process, as well as support others in doing the same.
As a teenager in foster care, I have seen firsthand how many foster youth are at a disadvantage without an adult to help nurture that engagement and explain the political process. Youth who are raised by politically engaged parents are more likely to be politically engaged themselves. But if youth in, and formerly in, foster care don’t vote to make their voice heard, who will?
Those who don’t vote may do so for different reasons. They might be unsure of where to start, like I was. They may think that their vote doesn’t matter. They might think that their perspective isn’t valuable or informed enough to vote, and so they don’t. Reaching out to people in your community is one of the most important things each one of us can do to impact change. Empower those around you, show them that their perspective is valuable and that their voice is powerful; that listening to multiple perspectives is important, and that getting support is a normal part of the process. Extending a helping hand without judgement can be the nudge that activates a future voter and encourages them to speak up about issues that matter to them.
One of my favorite quotes from Martha Gellhorn captures how I feel about voting this year and every year: “People often say, with pride, ‘I’m not interested in politics.’ They might as well say, ‘I’m not interested in my standard of living, my health, my job, my rights, my freedoms, my future or any future.’ … If we mean to keep any control over our world and lives, we must be interested in politics.” Despite what you might hear in the media or online, it is patriotic to acknowledge issues in our country and advocate to fix them. It is patriotic to not accept the status quo and believe that we can do better. And it’s patriotic to vote for systemic change that will improve the lives of those who come after you.
This is critical always — not only in presidential election years. Recently there was a vote to expand health care in Missouri, and it was incredibly close. Without young people turning out to vote, the state might not have extended coverage. Millions of people across the country have already voted, and millions more will vote in the coming days. In the run up to November 3rd, make a plan to vote and encourage your friends to do the same. Even while socially distanced, we can come together to impact real, lasting change.