One Tuesday morning, a little more than a week ago, I was drinking my coffee and decided my digestion couldn’t handle reading about another schoolyard brawl between Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner.
So I opened the Red Eye, a Chicago free daily newspaper, and started to flip directly to the Celebrity News for a little mental relaxation. Instead of checking out the reaction to Beyoncé’s Super Bowl outfit, my eyes were drawn to this headline: “I’ve Never Voted: Here’s Why.”
I expected a sad column trying too hard to replicate the humorous genius of The Daily Show. However, instead of satire, I read a self-serious list of reasons why 24-year-old Chicago Tribune reporter Rianne Coale has NEVER voted, or even registered to vote. Ever.
She offered the usual pro forma list of excuses. It’s too much hassle to register. Nobody else votes anyway, so why bother. I sadly have to agree with Coale and admit, with voter turnout at 40% for the last Chicago mayoral election, she is correct in acknowledging voter apathy.
But the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners does understand the “hassle” of filling out forms, so they made it possible to register to vote online. I wondered if Coale knew she could procrastinate right up until Election Day and register at her polling place. That’s right – it’s possible to register and vote on the same day, at least in Illinois! (Check the procedure where you live here.)
As I continued reading the article, I became aware of a certain futility in all these attempts to “get out the vote.” Because her reason for not voting is more insidious than mere laziness.
Coale believes it is not her “civic duty” to vote.
I sighed…deep breaths…I tried solving the crossword puzzle to relax. But I couldn’t overlook the implications of Coale’s total civic apathy.
How could she sit this one out? It doesn’t matter what her politics are. If the thought that Trump could be our next president doesn’t get her running to the polls to stop this madness, what will?
At this point I was wishing for an asteroid to enter Earth’s atmosphere and just end it all quickly. Which led me to another maddening statement in Coale’s article: “So here I sit, going about my post-graduate life and still not registered to vote. I have plenty of time, but maybe like in my work life, I’ll do it on a deadline.”
Really, Rianne? I hardly know where to begin. Do you understand why you enjoy a modern post-graduate work life with the freedom to make ignorant choices?
While you think of an answer, look up Lucy Burns (1879-1966). She fought for the same right to vote that so disinterests you. She was arrested, went on a hunger strike, and then faced torture when authorities shoved a tube down her throat to force feed her – all this, so you can choose to take that struggle for granted.
Once Lucy’s battle was over, the next generation of women leveraged their votes to fight for equal rights – the ones that offer you a 21st Century opportunity to get an education and build a career. These women looked into the future, saw your potential, and battled for you.
How do you repay them? By abdicating the responsibility you owe to our foremothers, yourself, and our children.
The responsibility to remember this history and show up at the ballot box is indeed your “civic duty,” and allow me to help you remember the definition from your 7th grade Constitution Test. Civic Duty is “the social force that binds you to the courses of action demanded by that force.”
Like it or not Rianne, you are bound to a social force comprised of militant suffragettes and feminists of the women’s rights movement. Since this army of women fought, suffered, and died to provide you with the freedom of a comfortable post-graduate life, they have a right to demand your recognition.
Honor them by fulfilling your civic duty. Vote in the general election on November 8, 2016. Even before that, you should be getting your ballot in the box for the primaries.
Noreen Hernandez has been a financial services professional for 10 years. A lifetime student with a passion for keeping her skills sharp, Noreen recently returned to university life, pursuing a degree in English Literature. Follow her on Twitter: @Noreen_Hern
This article originally appeared on the blog, beckysarwate.com.
Photo: Lucy Burns in Occoquan Workhouse. From the Records of the National Woman’s Party | Harris & Ewing, Washington, D.C., Library of Congress, Public Domain.
UPDATE: The day after this article was first published, Rianne Coale tweeted a response to the author with picture of herself holding a ballot receipt along with the words, “There’s a first time for everything!” PW writer Noreen Hernandez wants Coale to know how proud she is. Also, she wants everyone else to go out and do exactly what Rianne just did.