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Progressive Voice: Don’t Yet Feel An Urgency to Vote?

Progressive Voice is a bi-weekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

By Elaine S. Furlow

A while back, I was tutoring a young Afghan refugee when the time came for a statewide election. For that week’s real-life lesson, I dutifully collected campaign literature from both sides and used it for an invigorating session (I thought) on how Americans choose their leaders and vote.

“And in five years when you become a citizen, you can vote, too!” I concluded.

My friend recoiled in her chair — “Never!” — and instinctively clutched one arm over the other.

“But why?” I asked.

“Because they cut your fingers off if you vote!” came her quick reply.

Indeed, in her homeland there had been a few instances of the Taliban doing this, and rumors and fear had spread through the countryside. She at least had cause for her worry.

Today in the U.S., the reasons registered voters give for not voting are usually less drastic. Research from Pew shows non-voters mainly say, “My vote doesn’t matter,” “I don’t like these candidates or issues,” or “I’m too busy.”

Not good enough. You deserve to have others hear your voice. And your neighbors and family need to have your voice counted. Yes, turnout ratchets up in a presidential election year, (82% in Arlington in 2016), but still doesn’t reflect all our voices.

So here’s all the official information to vote early in Arlington if you are registered. Please make a plan today to vote. And if you’re chatting with disengaged friends, think back to these reasons and raise them in a non-judgmental way. Because here’s what at stake in this election.

  1. We still face enormous health and economic challenges because of the pandemic. We need a seasoned leader who respects science and data, and seeks out and communicates truth. Even before the pandemic, health care was and is critical for our families. They need help with costs, with navigating the system. The right national leaders can strengthen the Affordable Care Act (ACA), not undermine it.
  2. We need a full push in the fight to mitigate climate change. Bring back environmental safeguards, invest in newer energy sources, and give immediate attention as we band together with other nations to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and achieve zero net energy.
  3. We need to strengthen access to education that leads to meaningful jobs for everyone. Physician’s assistants, welders, special education teachers–our economy (and our style of education) must support a variety of skills that encourage long-term stability in the workforce. We are more than technology.

The pace of change is accelerating, and unemployed and underemployed workers need a pipeline to vital jobs that matter for them and the country. Let’s elect a president who knows how to craft that strategy for high employment in a robust economy.

  1. We have problems with race relations. Listening better is a good start, and then we need to make thoughtful, reasoned changes, nonviolently. Overcoming racial disparities in health care and education in particular are pillars in building a more just society.
  2. We need to reaffirm care for older adults and strengthen our traditional safety nets for them — Social Security and Medicare. Current and future generations should get the retirement benefits they have earned and deserve.
  3. We must protect our right to vote, and honor the rule of law in safe and secure elections. A president that doesn’t agree to abide by election results, and states that use insidious maneuvers to discourage voters (such as providing only one place to return ballots in such a large city as Houston) reveal what an angry opposition has in mind. Thankfully this hasn’t happened in Arlington.

On kitchen table issues, Democrats believe that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are the leaders who can meet these challenges. Why? Because they’ll work to strengthen government, not disdain and weaken it. But the Biden-Harris kind of leadership will only happen if we vote. We’ll be voting an emphatic “yes” for honest and science-based leadership on the pandemic, for new jobs for a new economy, boosting the education-to-work pipeline, caring for older adults, and dealing forthrightly with questions of race and opportunity. And that’s just on the domestic front.

Our lives depend on it — and so do those of our kids, grandparents, neighbors, work colleagues, and our young relatives and friends who will live longer with the consequences than most of us.

Elaine Furlow is a longtime Arlington activist and former member of the Arlington School Board.

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