By Sheri K. Cole, Philadelphia, PA @bflysmile
Why I Vote. Why I Care: The Personal
I have a clear memory of the day. January 15, 1988. It was a normal Friday to most people. But this was the day I turned 18. The day I could officially register to vote. And I did.
I was probably listening to George Michael’s “Faith” on the radio as I pulled into parking lot of my hometown library in Kettering, Ohio, in my mother’s borrowed car. I can still see the stark Frank Lloyd Wright-esqe building in my memory and asking the librarian for the Voter Registration form. Filling it out, I immediately felt like I was a connected to something larger.
But my interest in politics started before then.
I remember fighting with my best friend in 1980 when she said her family supported Jimmy Carter and I knew we were a Reagan family. I remember in elementary school asking my mother if I could watch her vote and being told that voting was a private act. No one should know who you voted for, and that meant me, too.
But by 1988, I wasn’t a young Republican. I shared a birthday with Martin Luther King, Jr., and had grown up with that knowledge which led to an interest in civil rights. As a member of the speech and debate team in high school, I wrote an award-winning oratory on the injustice of South African’s apartheid regime. And after registering to vote, I drove to West Dayton to the campaign office of Jessie Jackson and picked up a yard sign and button. He was my candidate, even though I wasn’t allowed to display those things in my yard.
In the intervening years, I’d studied political systems and became a feminist. I learned about women’s suffrage, dedicated my life to improving the lives of women. When someone tells me they aren’t registered or don’t bother to vote, I can’t stop the rage welling up in me.
Women died so we could have that right. There are women all over the world who are fighting today to have the right to voice their opinions in their political systems.
In 1992, I was ecstatic to see Bill Clinton elected President, but it was his working and accomplished wife, Hillary Rodham – who used her maiden name, who stood up and declared that women could do more than bake cookies and be arm candy – that really interested me. In 2008 when she conceded to President Barak Obama and talked about the “18 million cracks in the glass ceiling,” I cried both because we were on the verge of seeing our first African American President, but also because my hope of seeing a woman President in my lifetime was delayed.
Why I Vote. Why I Care: The Issues
As you might guess, Hillary Rodham Clinton is my candidate in the Pennsylvania primary. And I don’t shy away from the fact seeing a woman hold the highest office in the United States is important. It’s as ground breaking as the “first” anything is: Catholic, African American, Jewish, Latino, Gay. And here’s a secret: the “first” anything is never perfect. To get to and break that ceiling to a group’s advancement, no matter who has placed it there or what it’s made of, requires negotiation, compromise and playing by the rules that you have had little input into setting.
And yes, I dream of a day when two qualified female candidates debate one another on the Presidential, Governorship, Senate or even local election stage. We don’t see that today.
Today it is as if women are largely given a “token” candidate and asked to accept that for many reasons, not the least of which is that we aren’t given access to political leadership positions that will lead to support for her candidacy.
But here’s another secret: no one is perfect. To ask for a candidate to be perfect is to ask to be disappointed. But as voters, we have the right to ask a candidate to be honest about their biases and open in their thought process. We have the right to ask them to listen to all view points and come to a conclusion that will improve the lives for the most people.
And for me, the “most people” that are paramount in my life and work are women. And statistics tell the story of why women need to be engaged in the political process1.
- We make up 51% of the population of the United States and as we grow older, we start to radically outnumber men (66% of people over 85 are women).
- We make up 47% of the labor force. Think about that. Without women businesses would not only suffer from lack of employees, but see sales dramatically decrease because women’s independent earnings fuel their buying power.
- And more women are choosing to remain single2, which can put an even larger economic burden on us and those of our children (if we choose to have them).
But here’s a really interesting statistic: women vote at a higher rate than men. 43% of women voted in 2014, versus 40% of men. Yet women have never voted in a block because unlike many other demographic groups, women are not a monolithic whole. If we choose to not vote and not be engaged in national or local elections, then we are choosing to let others decide our fates.
Yet, women and the issues that are most important to us, such as economic opportunity, education, healthcare, are often treated as an afterthought. You see that in the discussions around both the Republican and Democratic primary contests. If Hillary Clinton were not in the race, I would bet that we would be talking even less (if that’s possible) about how policies impact women.
Even with her presence, we still haven’t had a substantial discussion about women’s health and sexual violence, income inequality as it pertains to women being segregated in low-wage jobs, incarceration rates and re-entry policies that unfairly penalize women who are pulled into illegal activity by the men in their lives… and I could go on.
So I care about politics and this election cycle for the same reason that every woman should care: without our voices as part of the process we can’t impact any change to improve the quality of our collective and individual lives. That’s why I will be voting the last Tuesday in April in the Pennsylvania primary, and I hope you will, too.
Sheri K. Cole is a resident of Philadelphia, PA and you can follow her online @bflysmile where she tweets about pop culture, feminism and politics. She is also Executive Director of Career Wardrobe, a social enterprise that uses clothing to empower women in Southeastern Pennsylvania to successfully transition to work.