I grew up as an Air Force brat and spent most of my first sixteen years living on a military base, so my exposure to true politics was minimal. In high school we moved to Virginia, right outside of Washington, D.C., where I initially decided politics was best observed from afar – a business best left to those with louder voices.
Decades later, the election of 2016 threatens to push many of us to the same conclusion – we want no part in the drama unfolding between two leaders who seem adept at capitalizing on conflict. Nearly every news article or media talking head is quick to judge His bombast or Her failures, each example cited as proof that the choice of 2016 is the lesser of two evils. Perhaps, some argue, it’s better not to vote. So it’s not surprising that pollsters and political junkies have begun to project that the 2016 winner of the White House will be the candidate with the least “unfavorables.”
The problem inherent in this narrative is that politics is not a spectator sport. And it’s not just about two unfavorable Presidential candidates.
Politics in the United States of America is about people – about you and me, our families, our friends, and our neighbors. Our government – at the federal, state, and local levels – was designed by our founders to be government by us, for us. And when we choose to observe from a distance, we’re forfeiting that gift – disregarding the exact freedoms that so many members of our military fight to protect on our behalf.
Whether or not you like the choices, the election of 2016 will not be any more palatable if you plug your ears, turn off the TV, or choose not to vote.
To be candid, I considered that idea for a few weeks this summer. Here’s where I ultimately ended up: choosing not to vote means I’ve accepted the idea that neither of the two unfavorable candidates deserve my vote, and therefore I should withhold my vote. But whether they do or do not deserve my vote isn’t why I vote.
I vote because I’m an American. I vote because my husband, my father, both my grandfathers, and more friends than I can count, put on the uniform of the United States military and vowed to protect and defend a country built upon the concept of citizens exercising their right to vote. I vote because I believe the best democracy includes all the voices – not just the loudest voices. And when I choose not to vote, my voice is missing from the chorus that makes us the United States of America.
I vote because I’ve seen our democracy up close – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and even after seeing that, I believe my vote matters. But what if your candidate isn’t elected, Katye, does your vote really matter? Yes. You vote by absentee, they don’t count those unless the polls are close, so does your vote really matter? Yes. Exercising my right to vote is less about whether I like the candidates and more about living what I believe.
More and more, I’m learning to pause and look at my life and ask myself – what do I believe? Am I living it? Or am I believing what I live? In my endeavor to live what I believe, I’m applying the exact questions guided my life and my faith after tragedy to my daily life, to the areas that give me greatest pause in my faith. God is still God in the mundane, but if I skirt the hard questions, I risk accepting a gospel built on the life I’m living, rather than what I believe.
After working for nearly a decade on the frontlines of government and politics in Washington, D.C., I married into the military and found myself in a community where political discussions were few and far between. In the silence, I discovered a newfound appreciation for the faith required to live what you believe while in uniform. Whether or not their candidate is elected in November, every member of our military will salute the new President on January 20, 2017. I’m grateful for the wisdom offered in their silent salutes to the Commander in Chief. Their dedication and commitment reflects respect and appreciation for the freedoms they serve to defend. Their example provides an important lesson for living what I believe in regards to government and politics.
Living what I believe means stepping off the sidelines. Living what I believe means accepting the privileges afforded to me as a citizen in this democracy. Living what I believe means participating in the government of my community, my state, and my nation by voting for the individuals who will govern.
Living what I believe recognizes that the election of 2016 and the ballot I cast is about more than choosing Him or Her for President. It’s about the men and women on the school board who will decide the policies for my girls schools; it’s about the mayor and city council who set a budget and spend my tax dollars to maintain the roads I drive; and it’s about the Members of Congress who set the budget for our military. The men and women elected in 2016 to fill these roles will be tasked with decisions that directly affect my family and me.
My faith tells me that God created each of us, uniquely and perfectly, and we are called to work that only we can do. I’m not called to be a spectator, simply observing the life around me. The absence of my voice – whether in my writing, in my community, or on a ballot – is a silence no one else can fill.