CHICAGO – I got an alarming email last week from a reader who was very angry because I recently wrote a column that did not portray Latino voters as victims who need to be catered to, cajoled, or specially invited in order to go to the polls on Election Day.
The gist of his message was that if Hispanics don’t turn out to vote it won’t be their fault because – I’m paraphrasing here – if someone has a party and certain guests don’t show up, those absent guests can’t be blamed for their nonattendance if they weren’t formally invited.
Let’s get something clear: If you are a U.S.-born or naturalized U.S. citizen of voting age, you have unquestionably been formally invited to participate in our democracy’s near-sacred Election Day.
If you are a U.S.-born citizen, it is literally your birthright.
And if you’ve spent any time in public schools – and most private schools – there is very little chance that you have not been repeatedly exposed to direct instruction on the workings of this country’s political system.
In Illinois, as in most other states, students in the early elementary grades – and continuing through grade 12 – are taught about the structures and functions of state and federal systems and about election processes and responsibilities.
Even in Wyoming – a state which, like 34 others, was given a grade of “F” in 2011 by the Southern Poverty Law Center for failing to adequately teach the civil rights movement – the state social studies curriculum standards require teaching students, starting in fourth grade, about the rights, duties and responsibilities of U.S. citizenship.
As for newer Americans, they learn about what is expected of them as they study for the U.S. citizenship test. It’s made clear in both official U.S. citizenship and Immigration Services study guides and practice tests that in addition to jury duty, “Citizens have a responsibility to participate in the political process by registering and voting in elections.”
Responsibilities are presented and tested separately from information about rights, such as being able to run for elected office or having freedom of worship.
While it would be nice if every politician did consistent, years-long outreach to historically marginalized voting groups – specific minority groups and women always seem to be ignored as wielders of political power until races get extremely tight – no citizen of voting age should be waiting on any politicians’ special invitation to turn out.
It’s our job, and there is no good excuse for failing to show up for it.
Though it’s too late to shame the slackers – those who didn’t even bother registering to vote – into action, there’s still time to goad those who might be considering not going to the polls on Tuesday because they think it’s unfair to have to choose between the lesser of two evils.
Unlike journalist and moderator Bob Schieffer, who ended the final presidential debate with a benediction from his mom – “Go vote. It makes you feel big and strong” – here’s a less self-indulgent motivation for the final stretch: Go vote, it is your duty.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright 2011, Washington Post Writers Group.