“In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.” 
― Sheryl Sandberg

Raise Your Voice; Use Your Vote

Raise Your Voice; Use Your Vote

Written by Heather Stewart

Maybe you’ve heard the statistics: Millennials now make up nearly half the voting population, a number equal to the baby boomers. Maybe you’ve also heard the one major difference between these groups: one shows up to the polls in force; one doesn’t. If you’re roughly between the ages of 18-35, your voice is not being heard. More significantly, it’s not even being used.

I could lay on the guilt. I could lament the men and women who laid down their lives to defend your right to vote. I could name civil rights leaders, suffragists and thousands upon thousands who have devoted themselves to the idea of equal representation. Those who believe you should have the power to decide on laws and lawmakers.

But you’ve heard it all before, and, clearly, it’s not working. I’m not here to guilt trip anyone. I’m not here to yell and plead and cry. I’m here simply to tell you that voting matters. It does. To you, to me, to the rest of this country. You have a voice—use it.

Political debates and social activism seem to be the new trend. It’s cool to seem like you care. You click like, hit share and tweet your support, but these actions do little more than stroke your own ego. Yes, social media can help spread the word, but real change doesn’t happen without action. Social media is only part of the puzzle.

For a generation that seems hell-bent on changing the world, we’re doing a terrible job following through. It’s not enough to say we want change. It’s not enough to like a photo. It’s not enough to comment your support on Facebook. It’s not even enough to march or protest. You have to vote.

Activism creates awareness. It gets the conversation going, and that’s critical to bringing attention to an idea. But, if you don’t take action, it doesn’t matter. If you don’t show up, if you don’t vote, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter how many articles you shared or how many times you liked a status. Nothing changes without action.

Voting may not change things in a day, or a week, or a year—or in many years, but it has to start somewhere. Voting has brought us civil rights, minimum wage, women’s suffrage and legalized same-sex marriage. These issues are still challenged, but we still had to jump the first hurdle.

Our world now is so divisive. It’s the “If you’re not with me, you’re against me” thinking which is destroying our democracy. It’s what keeps people from delving into a social topic. It’s what makes most people bury their head in the sand. It’s the endless debates which devolve into screaming matches on both sides and triggers the apathy from those on the fence. They convince themselves that voting doesn’t make a difference, that one voice doesn’t create change. But, one voice can become many. One voice can drive others into action. You don’t always have to be the loudest; sometimes you just have to be the most persistent.

As a generation with access to the world at our fingertips, we have no excuses. We can research our candidates and our amendments in order to become informed voters who cast a ballot knowing who and what we’re voting for. We can remember that elections exist for more than just president. While the highest elected office is, of course, incredibly important, local elections—which determine things like the school board, constitutional amendments and local referenda—will affect you and your livelihood the most. Even if you don’t feel the effects now, you may in the near future.

We put so much thought into where we go for dinner. We take time to pose for the perfect selfie. We debate the merits of our favorite TV character. Yet, we don’t make the effort to vote. And, even worse, to educate ourselves on what we are voting for. This our country, our state, our city, our lives that will be impacted. We can’t simply brush off the responsibility. We can’t share an article and expect others to fix the problem. We have to stop hoping someone else will step up and act.

If you want to have your voice heard, if you want your opinion to matter, you have to vote—period.

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Heather lives in Jacksonville, Florida, where she graduated with a degree in Converged Communication. She currently bartends to pay the bills, while looking for a new career in public relations. An avid sports fan, makeup hoarder, and mom of two, she survives on strong coffee and inappropriate humor. On days off you can find her dragging her kids on an adventure around town, checking out a new bar with friends, or simply wandering the aisles of Target.

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