A recent inspection of voting records in Wisconsin reveals several worrisome facts, the most upsetting of which are these: walleye can’t vote. Neither can trees and plants. Lakes, rivers and oceans are banned from the polls. Insects, animals and people under the age of 18, forbidden to cast a ballot.
That is a scandal, because each of those groups will be greatly affected by Earth’s changing climate. And each would be eager, given the chance, to vote for candidates vowing to enact legislation protecting us all from the worst consequences scientists are predicting. Those include increasingly severe storms and floods, warming lakes and oceans, vanishing species and masses of people forced to migrate because of drought and fires.
The rest of us, the eligible voters, enjoy the hard-won privilege of determining how we are to be governed.
Yet many eligible voters don’t vote and don’t plan to. There are various reasons—some legitimate, but most not—that so many shun that right. Perhaps the most common is this: “My vote won’t make any difference. It won’t change the world. Why should I bother?”
That reasoning makes perfect sense, from the perspective of a single person looking for an excuse to stay home.
Yet many people who decline to vote are careful not to throw trash in a lake or out the car window. They pick up a $10 bill someone has dropped and say, “Excuse me. You just dropped this.” They join strangers to push someone’s car out of a snowbank. They help an elderly person collect spilled groceries in a parking lot. They give lost travelers directions to the hospital or even lead them there. They release the fish caught out of season. They wait patiently at the red light, at 3 a.m in a quiet town, with no other cars in sight.
The list of things nonvoters do in the name of citizenship, or simple humanity, is endless. They don’t say, “This won’t change the world. Why should I bother?” Each of us, whether we vote or don’t vote, might ask that question, many times every day. “Why should I bother?”
We bother because of who we are, what we owe to each other and what we owe to the Earth—not because we’re sure that our simple act or single vote will alter the course of history.
We vote to honor the people who worked, fought and died to establish that right to vote, as well as those who helped build this country even as they were denied for too long the right to vote in it.
Above all, we vote for the children, creatures, plants and waters that don’t have that right but must live in the world we leave them. If we don’t care about them, we don’t care about anything. That isn’t who we are or what we should become.