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Where is My Generation?

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“A citizen of America will cross the ocean to fight for democracy, but won’t cross the street to vote in a national election.” – Bill Vaughan, political columnist

Why don’t we vote again, exactly?

It’s raining?

It’s across town?

We think our vote doesn’t matter?

It’s interesting to see where my priorities lie; my friends and I will spend an hour on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, watch a two-hour movie on Netflix, and play “Words with Friends” all in the same day without thinking twice about it. We will wait in line for our morning lattat Starbucks, but if we’re honest, the first thing that comes to mind when we think of voting is the time and the lines! We do not vote in the numbers that we should.

60 million evangelical and Catholic Christians in the United States are eligible to vote, but only half – approximately 30 million – are actually registered. That’s unacceptable! Only 5 million votes are needed to decide the outcome of the upcoming presidential election. If every conservative Christian who voted in 2012 brought a friend to the polls this fall, we could swing an election. Our votes do matter; they do have an impact.

For instance, in 1844, a grain miller was stopped by his friends on the way to work in DeKalb County, Indiana. It was Election Day, and his friends convinced him to vote. When the polls were tallied, the candidate for whom the miller had voted won a seat in the state legislature by “a margin of one vote.” Later, when the Indiana legislature convened, the man elected from DeKalb County cast the deciding vote that elected Edward Hennegan to the Senate. When the question of statehood for Texas came up in the Senate, there was a tie vote. Providentially, Hennegan was serving as president pro tempore, and he cast the deciding vote from his chair. In the end, Texas was admitted to the Union because a miller in DeKalb County went a few minutes out of his way to cast one vote. One vote granted statehood to Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and California. Thomas Jefferson also won the presidency by one vote in the Electoral College. Don’t tell me “our votes don’t matter” or that our votes are “not important.” Unfortunately, the opportunity to vote is not – and has not always been – a right for us. It is a privilege, one that was fought for, and it should be treated as such.

American women, this November you can thank your grandmothers for allowing your voice to be heard. The same way our nation’s Founding Fathers fought for our freedoms, our “Founding Mothers” did as well.

On the night of November 15, 1917, thirty-three women stood in front of Woodrow Wilson’s White House, carrying signs asking for the right to vote. They were arrested and jailed by forty prison guards who waved clubs, choked, kicked, and beat them, and wrongly accused them of “obstructing sidewalk traffic.” They beat Lucy Burns and chained her hands to the cell bars above her head, leaving her bleeding and gasping for air as she hung all night. When one of the leaders, Alice Paul, went on a hunger strike, she was tied to a chair while prison guards forced a tube into her throat and poured liquid into her until she vomited. This torture continued for weeks. Unfortunately, the fight for women’s suffrage continued until 1920, when American women were finally granted the right to vote, and that dark night in Washington went down in history as the “Night of Terror.”

These women were not beat in the head, thrown into prison cells, and fed worm-infested slop for weeks so that I could apathetically sit in front of my TV on Election Day. American women desperately need a wake-up call. We forget in this amazing country that our own grandmothers and great-grandmothers were not politically entitled to their opinion. How would these women feel if they saw their daughters or their granddaughters keeping up with the Kardashians instead of keeping up with public policy? Knowing what our mothers before us went through should impassion us. It should invigorate us. And it should get us to the polls, not just this November, but for every election.

I feel guilty for feeling that voting is inconvenient, merely an obligation, or an item on my list of things to do. Voting should be personal. These women experienced pain and battled for my right to step into that booth and pull the curtain behind me. The very least I can do is show up. Concerned Women for America’s President and CEO, Penny Nance, has always said, “Politics is simple. It’s not rocket science. It’s all about who shows up.”

Sadly, women’s suffrage is still not granted to all of our sisters around the globe. Women in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to vote in any elections whatsoever. Although they will be able to vote in local elections in 2015, they are still unable to serve as Cabinet members, or drive or travel without permission from a male guardian. As American women, we should be ashamed for taking our ability to vote for granted.

My generation will bear the consequences and leave a terrible legacy if we refuse to be represented. As Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “The future of this republic is in the hands of the American voter.” Women like Lucy Burns and Alice Paul thought risking their lives to secure voting rights was worth it. Many have, would, and will die for their vote to be heard.

Get the word out.

Ladies, we cannot let the suffering of our forebears be for nothing. I’ll see you at the polls.

Julie Lynn Coates is an alumna with Concerned Women for America’s Ronald Reagan Memorial Internship Program.

Updated 10/16/14