November 4, 2008 was a memorable day for me. It was the first US election in which I was eligible to vote. By then I had lived here as an expat for a long time so I truly appreciated finally getting to add my two cents to how the country was run. I know first hand how frustrating it can be to live, work and raise children in a country and not have a say. Election years can be especially difficult as you watch the democratic process play out in front of you as an observer. I’ve learned over the years however that there are many ways in which you can be active and feel part of the process – even when you aren’t able to actually cast a vote. Some simple things to consider is to volunteer for a candidate you want to support, help promote an issue or donate money to a candidate or cause you feel strongly about.
A great way to offset the feeling of being relegated to the sidelines is to engage on a local level on an ongoing basis. If you have kids maybe that means you are involved in a school organization such as the PTO or the school board, maybe you decide to be active with a local charity organization or an advocacy group. There are many ways to help shape the community around you – it really is just a matter of deciding how you want to engage.
Also, just because you can’t vote doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be well informed. Being well informed on the issues means you can actively and confidently participate in the debate. So, if you find you have a hard time understanding an election – its process or its issues – make a point of finding out as much as you can. A good place to start if you are in the US is to go to the official US government website. Once you have an understanding of the process you can read up on the issues. Many newspapers will have election guides and PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) usually has a thorough and objective guide to candidates and issues.
If I were to muse on this year’s US election, I think I can safely say it’s been unlike any other I’ve experienced. Like many, I feel it’s difficult to wrap my head around what’s been going on. Not because I have a hard time figuring out whom to vote for – there is only one option as far as I am concerned. No, it has more to do with trying to explain to people back home what is actually happening and what the candidates stand for. It used to be that I could serve as a bit of an ‘interpreter’ to people back home, that I could explain issues and positions. I found that to be increasingly more difficult this time around.
But, regardless of my difficulties understanding and explaining this particular election cycle, I do know one thing: I truly treasure my right to vote and I will be heading to the polls once again this election day. I am going to read up on the issues and mark my ballot. I am going to drop it off at my polling place and then put an ‘I voted’ sticker on my jacket and proudly walk out onto the streets of my city.
By: Felicia Shermis