Editor’s note: This is one of Graves’ occasional letters to his grandchildren.
This letter recognizes that Katie is going to vote in her very first election this year. A big privilege, Katie! But I also include you, Claire and Andy, because your parents, Grandma and I want you to continue learning how to be responsible citizens in your city, state and our country.
Katie, you are voting in a strange and yet critical national election on Nov. 8. It somewhat reminds me of the first time I voted, in 1964. It was a very divisive and volatile election also, between Republican Barry Goldwater and the incumbent president, Lyndon Johnson.
If you haven’t yet received your Oregon ballot in the mail, you will soon, Katie. Take your vote both seriously and respectfully. Your vote will count, even though it is “only” one of many million votes. Likewise, treat your state election choices and local election choices seriously.
I’ve voted in nearly every primary and general election since 1964. But I gained a new appreciation for “every vote counts” when I first ran for Sandpoint City Council, and then for Sandpoint mayor. In a different way, I saw the effect of how each citizen’s vote makes a big difference.
So, kids, when you get the chance to vote, Grandma and I hope you will keep in mind a few basic things. Whether you are voting in a school election, Andy and Claire, or later in community, state and national elections, these are important.
First, treat your voting at all levels as a privilege rather than a duty. It is too easy to get cynical about voting. Fight against that by knowing you live in a democracy that authentically values the vote.
Second, look beyond a candidate’s “talking points” to find what you consider valid “thinking points.” In other words, work hard to balance your feelings about candidates and issues with reasonable research on those candidates and their issues. Don’t settle for candidates who depend more on their powers of persuasion than on their grasp of issues.
Third, never underestimate your own value as a person and a voter. If you somehow don’t feel respected as a person who votes, consider choosing not to listen to a candidate’s promises.
Fourth, work to be realistic about the promises of change and the patient work that any change will take. At no level can an elected person make change happen alone. He or she must find healthy ways to work with other people, elected and unelected, to make promised actions happen.
Fifth, have a good sense of how candidates’ promises fit with the values you are learning, and learning again, as you grow up into the persons your parents and your grandparents know you can become. You already have a strong base of values that you can use to evaluate best how to vote.
Sixth, whether your candidate wins or loses, continue to work passionately and compassionately with your heart, mind and body to make happen what you hope is the best for your community, your state and our country.
Lastly, when we work together – and learn not to care who gets credit for what happens – healthy and wonderful things can happen. As we draw closer to the November election, kids, remember this:
There is nothing wrong with America that what is right with America can’t make so much better. For Katie and millions of Americans in this election season, that means we vote for what we believe is better. And then work to make happen what we believe is the best for our country.
The Rev. Paul Graves, a Sandpoint resident and retired United Methodist minister, can be contacted at email@example.com.
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