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NOW Atlantic: Smart thinking for a changing world
Who you choose to vote for in this federal election is no one’s business but your own. We all have our reasons.
A candidate might be pushing all the right buttons for you about child care or job creation or fighting climate change or lowering taxes.
What I can’t fathom is people who just couldn’t be bothered to cast a ballot.
As someone who appreciates living in a democracy — as rife with dissonance as this one has become of late — I see voting as a responsibility and an obligation. We get to shape how our country is governed and what kind of society we live in. Trite as that may sound, it means something. To not care enough to take advantage of the opportunity to have input seems like such a waste.
I was raised by parents who always voted — though not necessarily the same way — and in a household where politics was as much a constant at our table as Mom’s homemade bread. So that may have shaped my feelings and behaviour when it comes to voting. But I’d like to think that even without their influence I always would have valued the chance to vote, particularly given how hard some people fought for us to be enfranchised.
Before deciding to skip voting day on Monday, you might consider, for example, that women in Newfoundland and Labrador began lobbying for the right to vote at the municipal level 130 years ago. Unfortunately, they were brushed off in some quarters like lint on a jacket.
The Heritage Newfoundland and Labrador website quotes from the forerunner of this newspaper, The Evening Telegram, of April 20, 1893: “we have no word of sympathy or encouragement for those ladies who would voluntarily unsex themselves, and, for the sake of obtaining a little temporary notoriety, plunge into the troubled waters of party politics.”
It was not until 1925 that women aged 25 and over won the right to vote, while men could vote at 21. It was 1946 before the age was lowered to 21 for Newfoundland and Labrador women.
(In Canada, while women 21 and over were given the right to vote in 1919, it was not until 1960 that truly universal suffrage was achieved, when barriers of race and religion were finally removed.)
In her excellent book “A History of Britain in 21 Women,” journalist Jenni Murray muses about what she might have done to fight for the right to vote if she had lived in earlier times.
“I’ve often wondered whether, had I been around before women won the vote, I would have been a militant suffragette or a suffragist, relying on my capacity for reasoned argument and lobbying those powerful men in Parliament whose support would be necessary to get the law changed,” she writes.
I’ve wondered the same thing.
I was raised by parents who always voted — though not necessarily the same way — and in a household where politics was as much a constant at our table as Mom’s homemade bread.
It’s a pity that many of the strong, smart and determined women Murray brings vibrantly to life in her book were not mentioned in any history class I ever took.
In Britain, there had been appeals for universal suffrage since at least 1819. Nearly a century after that, suffragettes were being sent to prison for obstruction for doing as little as demonstrating at political meetings and asking the question: “Will the Liberal government, if returned, give votes to women?”
In 1909, a group of suffragettes went on a hunger strike to make the point that they should be treated in prison as political prisoners rather than criminals.
Murray writes: “Their demands were not met. Instead, force-feeding began where a tube would be pushed down a weak and hungry prisoner’s throat and sustenance poured into the stomach, an extremely painful practice.”
If for no other reason on Monday, we owe it to the people who came before us and suffered and fought for our right to vote, to get out to the polling booths and cast a ballot. Complacency is not our friend.
As Murray warns, “We should never assume that rights once won are written in stone and can’t be taken away. We must not relax our vigilance.”
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