"This could be the defining election of our lives."
"Voting is your right and responsibility."
"Vote as if your life depended on it."
You've probably heard all these slogans. Most likely you've seen the political ads and maybe even watched the conventions. So, what's the urgency about; why does voting matter? It's easy to get cynical about voting, especially in national elections where many have been faced with barriers to voting, had their votes discounted or simply haven't found a candidate who speaks to them or their issues.
However, the President, the Administration and those who represent us in Congress can have a huge impact on our lives and those we care for. As women and people affected by HIV, our concerns, at best, have gone unaddressed in the last four years. At worst, the programs we care about and depend on have been attacked and insufficiently funded while unhelpful, even destructive, policies have been put in place. Tax cuts benefiting primarily wealthy individuals, war spending, and slow economic growth have left little for important domestic programs such as education, healthcare and social services. In HIV/AIDS, we have seen essentially flat funding for the Ryan White CARE Act for the first time since its inception. Medicaid has been the target of proposed cuts and reductions in service. The Medicare Prescription Drug benefit that was to help seniors and disabled people with overwhelming drug costs will provide some relief but may also leave some worse off than they were before the benefit.
Voting is one of the most important ways you can make clear what matters to you and your loved ones. However you choose to vote, know the candidates' platforms on the issues you care about, including HIV/AIDS. One place to check is AIDSVote (www.aidsvote.org). This site defines what the next President must do to address the AIDS pandemic. You can view the platform, endorse it, read the candidates' responses, view candidates' profiles, get involved with an absentee ballot drive, download materials explaining the role of nonprofits in electoral politics, and learn about the "Rally in a Can."
Many of you who read this article already plan to vote. You may have made a decision on your candidate. And you may feel this article is preaching to the choir. If this is true for you, you can still make a difference by helping others exercise their right to vote.
Start by knowing who votes. According to the US Census Bureau, in the last national election, 111 million people or 55% of the voting-age population voted. The average voter is older, white (non-Hispanic), and female. 72% of voters were between the ages of 65-74. Only 36% of 18- to 24-year-olds voted. One young woman explained, "I don't feel that most politicians today understand or care about the issues that are important to me or people my age, so why should I bother to vote at all?"
In 2000, 62% of White non-Hispanic citizens voted, the highest level of turnout, followed by 57% of African Americans, 45% of Latinos, and 43% of Asian and Pacific Islanders. Women were more likely to vote than men (61% compared to 58%).
For complete information on permissible election activities for 501(c)3 nonprofits visit www.allianceforjustice.org.
Voting is our right as well as our obligation. We can't take it lightly or ignore it. As women and as Americans, it's even more important for us to vote. Many women in other countries continue to fight and even die for this essential right. We can make a difference as long as we participate and speak up.