If you had time to make a Halloween costume this year, you have time to vote in this election. If you had time to wait in line to buy a ticket for the recent billion-dollar lottery drawing, you have time to vote. And if you have time to read this op-ed, then you have time to vote.
You’re never too busy to vote.
After chatting with an old friend while we were waiting to buy fish at the market, I asked her if she had talked with her kids to make sure they vote next week. With a tone of apology, perhaps pity, in her voice, she said, “Oh no, I can’t bother them with that, they have enough to do just keeping their lives together.”
That comment hit me hard. “What did you say, excuse me?” While I was tempted to explode into a lengthy diatribe about how voting was one of the most hard-fought rights in our history, I managed to stay centered and let it go — but not without a few firm words about how her kids and grandkids might have a harder time keeping their lives together in the future if we don’t deal with some of the environmental and social problems facing us now.
What I really wanted to say to her — directly and forcefully — is no. Neither she nor her kids should be let off the hook because they’re too busy to vote. All of us have invested too much of our life energy, over many decades, fighting for minority rights, environmental safeguards, decent wages, and access to affordable healthcare, to have it all undone by the agenda of the current party controlling all three branches of the federal government.
I don’t say this lightly: Tuesday’s midterm election is without question the most important one I have seen since I first voted around the time of our student protests in the 1960’s, when the Vietnam War was raging and African American leaders like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X were organizing for civil rights. So many of us devoted years of our personal and professional lives preparing for and sitting through thousands of meetings and hearings, and gathering in mass protests in the streets, as we scratched and clawed at both the system and our parents’ generation to make slow but steady progress for social and economic justice.
We spent too many years fighting for these gains to now just sit back and watch the party in power dismantle all that we care about and fought to protect. We are living in perilous times, and firm action is needed to preserve the environmental and social gains we fought for. The midterm election can be our opportunity to take immediate action on some of the biggest issues facing us like climate change, sea level rise, and sustainable development.
As we approach the 2018 midterm election next Tuesday, I want to make one thing absolutely clear: Being a citizen in a democracy, and being a friend, comes with a responsibility. The responsibility each of you has right now — including close personal friends of mine — is to vote in this election. If you don’t vote, you are hurting all of us. Yes, you. Non-voters not only let our democracy down as citizens, but also those whom you care about and call you a friend. And that will have implications for the future of our environment, our society, all of our families, and even our friendships.
Dr. Bruce Justin Miller was director of the University of Hawaii’s Office of Sustainability. He received the Department of Commerce Environmental Hero Award in 1999 and in his student days was coordinator of the first Earth Day celebration in 1970. He is currently working on sustainability planning.