I’ll never forget the first time I voted.
It was way back in the, ahem, 20th century. I remember how proud I was to finally carry out my civic duty and vote. I actually decided before Election Day to be a volunteer on one of the campaigns. A great man, Senator Frank Moss, had led the fight on so many issues I cared about: Medicare, Social Security, assistance for hospice care, money for special education. I signed up to help him.
He’d been in the Senate for 18 years. His challenger’s platform was pretty much that 18 years was too long to serve the good people of Utah. That candidate, Orrin Hatch, won. The same Orrin Hatch who has now been in office for 42 years. But that subject is for another time.
I was bitterly disappointed that my candidate did not win, but it just helped to mold me into the civic tsunami I became. I learned that the race is won by people who show up and by people who get others to show up.
I showed up in a different way when I ran for Congress in 1998. Someone else took the Gold. I won… the Silver. (Yes, it’s all in the spin.) It was another disappointment. And yet, I cannot even begin to describe what an honor it was to be on the ballot, and what an even greater honor it was that so many friends and strangers showed up for me. It was overwhelming, and something that I will never, ever forget. Now, with Election Day 2018 just around the corner, I am as thrilled as a high school senior the night before graduation.
There are two reasons these midterms are even more significant for me than usual. Number one, education is a significant issue in many state and local elections this year. It is in some places driving the debate and motivating many people to vote. Education-related ads in gubernatorial campaigns are airing on radio and TV from Maine to Nevada. Candidates are campaigning on support for educators, making college more affordable, and investing in public schools.
The second reason, more educators than ever are running for office. In previous cycles, there might have been 300 educators on the ballot. This year there are nearly five times that—almost 1,500 educators.
They are running for office across the nation, but West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona, Colorado, and North Carolina are particularly well represented. Could it be that educators were encouraged by the historic #RedForEd walkouts in those states? You bet your ballot they were!
The candidates include:
- David García, running for governor in Arizona;
- Tim Walz and Julie Blaha, running for governor and state auditor, respectively, in Minnesota;
- Stephanie García Richard, running for land commissioner in New Mexico;
- And 2016 National Teacher of the Year Jahana Hayes, running to represent Connecticut’s 5th District in Congress.
I know from experience that campaigning is grueling. (My comfy teacher shoes came in handy when I was out knocking doors.) But I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything. I imagine that by the time all the votes are counted, this year’s huge group of educators-turned-candidates will agree.
The candidates are an important part of a movement of and by educators, for students. In a year of national tumult over many issues—when the headlines change every few seconds—they are making sure that education gets attention.
This phenomenon didn’t come from out of nowhere, like a UFO landing on the front lawn; it’s been building for a long time. It is the direct result of the constant budget-cutting that deprives students of the resources they deserve. Tattered textbooks, leaky ceilings, and overcrowded classrooms are evidence of misplaced priorities, and educators—with our voices and votes—are aiming to make big changes.
I say it is about time!
What I can’t understand, however, is why so many people who can vote choose not to. (And by the way: Check out President Obama Doesn’t Have Time for these 7 Excuses Not to Vote.)
Let me be blunt: This is not the year for anyone to put voting on the back burner, take it for granted, or consider it someone else’s responsibility. This is the year for each of us to make a plan to vote and follow through.
We all know that there are cynical groups and politicians out there that want to make it as difficult as possible for some people to vote. They have created voter ID laws, challenged registration lists (you can check your registration status here), and have thrown other barriers at would-be voters.
In a recent high-profile case, the U.S. Supreme Court left in place a North Dakota law requiring residents to provide an ID with a residential address rather than a P.O. box number. The law seems to target Native Americans, who often live on reservations lacking street names.
In east Georgia, government officials ordered African-American senior citizens to get off a bus that was taking them from a county-run senior center to vote early. It’s worth noting that the Republican secretary of state in Georgia is blocking more than 53,000 voters from registering—70 percent of them African American.
Oh, and incidentally, he is also running for governor. His opponent is Georgia Association of Educators-recommended candidate Stacey Abrams, Minority Leader in the state House of Representatives from 2011 to 2017, the first African-American woman in the state to run for governor.
Why are the challenges so numerous, intense, and downright dirty? Because the stakes are so high.
That’s why we can’t just take ourselves to the polls. We need to take other voters, too. For all its flaws, that’s the great thing about our political system. Whether you vote by absentee ballot, early vote, or wait until Election Day, make sure you have your say this year. And don’t let anything stand in your way. Show up.