This is not a political column, at least not a partisan one. We don’t need anyone else yelling their opinions into our ears. Besides, I promised the folks in charge of this newspaper that I would stay away from politics.
But there is one thing that I cannot remain silent about: voting in the upcoming Nov. 6 election.
As Frank Bruni said in the New York Times on July 22, “We’re excellent at venting. We need to be just as good at voting.”
I have been fortunate to have traveled overseas widely in my life, both as a writer and a tourist. And I have never found another country that I could comfortably make my home. I pinch myself and say that, even when our nation seems to be taking a wrongheaded or shortsighted path, I am lucky as a human being, a woman and a religious minority, to be living in the United States.
My mother was an immigrant. She came to the United States as a teenager from Russia. Whenever I suggested to her that we visit her village in what is now the Ukraine, she emphatically refused.
“A ‘roots’ trip,” I said nostalgically. “Perhaps we still have cousins there.”
She replied, “No, I have only bad memories. We were hungry and despised over there. Why would I want to go back?”
Of course, the United States is not perfect. Far from it. But I’ve been fortunate to live, work and raise my family with unbelievable opportunities. Our country is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful and diverse places on Earth.
However, statistics show that some 40 percent of Americans who were eligible to vote in the last election did not. I’m pretty sure that on some weeks more people voted for a contestant on American Idol than they did president. (Of course on that show, you were entitled to vote early and often … up to 10 times!)
An even more alarming statistic is that fewer than 1 in 2 young people ages 18 to 29 cast a ballot in the last national election. I used to be a college professor at the California State College with the greatest ethnic diversity in the system. A large number of students were from another country, and an even larger number were the first of their family to attend college. When I stressed how important it was to vote, I was met with excuses.
Then I guaranteed them extra credit if they presented me with an “I Voted” sticker on Election Day. Of course, I’d never ask who they voted for.
“I’m too busy,” many said. These hard-working students were busy, most holding at least one job while attending college full-time.
“Why should I vote? These elections don’t affect me,” others said. At this, I was truly upset. “Of course they affect you. What about your health care? What about the water you drink? What about taxes?” I’d say.
But often all these students could think of was getting through school and getting a good job. In Silicon Valley, where I taught, a college education almost always guaranteed a place in the middle class.
I want to provide some information about voting on Tuesday, Nov. 6. Deadlines are coming up.
Joanna, a helpful clerk at the Santa Barbara County Elections Office, clarified that the last day to register is Oct. 22. However, one can cast an absentee ballot as early as Oct. 8, the day they'll be mailed out. Call 800-SBC-Vote to find out how to register to vote or receive a ballot in the mail.
I was going to remind people that many important offices in the Santa Ynez Valley are open. Few have filed to run for mayor or city council in Solvang or Buellton. But by the time you read this, the deadline for filing for office, Aug. 10, will have passed.
Start thinking now about the next election. New, young, nontraditional candidates add to any city government or school board. And the city of Solvang's website contains a candidate guide.
The United States is a model for countries around the world who do not have the luxury of democratically choosing their leaders. Our leadership changes hands peacefully. We know the system has its flaws. But before wringing our hands too much, let’s make sure that every young person we know who has turned 18 has registered and casts a vote. And let’s make sure that each of us gets their vote in the mail or in the ballot box.
Friends remind friends to vote.