Voting. We take it for granted in the United States, where we can vote safely, efficiently, and usually quickly.
Residents of many other countries of the world, whose situations I have observed first-hand and through reports from family members, often treat the right to vote - if they have it - as something much more precious than we do. In Northern Ireland, elections are often suspended; when they are not, a resident should vote early, or he/she risks arriving at the polls to find that someone else has already voted under his or her name. In Thailand, military coups take "corrective action" if elections do not produce leaders considered honest and competent. In numerous countries, voting can only occur under the visible protection of heavily armed troops, to fend off serious threats of violence intended to prevent people from casting their ballots. Travel to polls, and waits in line, that might consume half a day or more, are not uncommon in developing countries attempting to implement democratic processes. In some countries, people literally die to vote.
We have it much easier. Perhaps the strongest laments that most of us hear are questions like: "Why doesn't anyone inspiring run for office?" "All the candidates are the same." "What difference will my vote really make?"
We have the privilege and obligation to vote. I'm nonpartisan; I proudly vote for Republicans, Democrats, and independents because competent leadership exists within many different political circles. And we need competent political leaders - who can join with business, nonprofit, and community leaders to address the trends in our communities that will improve the quality of life for all of us. The demographic forecast for the next 50 years indicates that we need to nurture new, young, diverse leaders to fill the shoes of the current generation of leaders, as they leave public life.
We've all heard the admonition that the true test of a country is how it cares for its least fortunate residents. The disparities work of The Itasca Project, the Minneapolis Foundation, and others has demonstrated both the moral and economic rationales for this. We need leaders who can rise above short-term challenges and confront educational and employment disparities for the good of all of us in the long run.
When you vote - whether with primary allegience to one party, or as a "mix and match" voter like me - I encourage you to take a "research-based perspective" and look for candidates who are most likely to implement what research suggests are critical ingredients for future community and regional success:
Which candidates will join with other leaders to focus our attention on a strong common vision for our region and our state?
Which candidates will foster connections and understanding that we need to promote among communities in our region, so that they do not become isolated enclaves which cannot work together for the common good?
Which candidates will promote policies based on solid information and on close rapport with the full array of their constituents?
Which candidates have the motivational ability to get us all involved in nurturing new generations of competent employees, parents, and community leaders, and to strengthen our region within a global economy?
Hope to see you wearing an "I Voted" sticker on Election Day!!
(By the way, if you want to see something fun on how just one vote can make a difference, take a look at The Democracy Project, at PBS - intended for kids, but very informative for adults as well.)