In my day, we didn’t get to vote until we were 21 years old, but that’s better than my grandmothers who didn’t get to vote until they were into their twenties because they were women and it was against the law until then. I was all for giving the vote to 18 year olds if we were going to be sending them into wars as teens. They should at least have a say in their futures.

I remember having a discussion with my father about an election while I was in college and he didn’t like the way I was leaning. I had to tell him I couldn’t vote so I wouldn’t be canceling his vote – yet. Actually, I was a pretty conservative, middle of the road voter for most of my life. I considered myself an educated voter because I read about the candidates, read the editorials in the local papers, listened to the speeches, read magazines and watched debates for national elections and tried to do my best. I often went with the recommendations I read, although I never just checked the party emblem box for a straight party vote. I was a little to the right fiscally and more to the left socially, but mostly in the middle.

There really wasn’t too much of a threat if my candidate didn’t win, which happened often. I felt like all of the people running for office would work with the other elected officials to find equitable solutions for problems. Isn’t that what politics is? People with different opinions sitting down to find a common solution?

So, what happened?

Well, while we weren’t watching very carefully, people were working behind the scenes, making it legal to give politicians insane amounts of money to vote as they wanted them to. Also, the way we get our information changed with 24/7 news channels of all kinds on cable. We are bombarded with images and ads and people talking to fill the hours they have to fill. The money candidates receive not only filtered into their pockets, but into the media to produce slick ads filled with negative or false images to sway our votes. After a lot of blah, blah, blah, we have ended up the current state of affairs with the most partisan politics I have ever seen, candidates who shouldn’t be in ANY elected office, and a world filled with fear and hateful opinions voiced in every venue, including houses of worship.

I am still a voter and always will be. I’ve changed from a member of a political party to an Independent, which is helpful when people start calling me names (which is pretty childish, but they do). I’m shocked that young people haven’t rushed to the polls in droves and don’t even seem to realize elections are going on unless it’s a presidential race. I still have faith that they will be the salvation and learn that their power is in their votes to make the world they want to live in. Recent developments in human rights, education and health care should wake them up.

A few years ago, I realized I was going to be out of town for an election, so I applied for an absentee ballot for the first time ever. That was a wake-up. In Oklahoma, absentee voters receive their ballot to fill out and then they place it in an envelope, which they then place in another envelope which has to be notarized before placing it in the final envelope for mailing (which takes two stamps, although they don’t tell you that & I think the post office has to deliver them). My first thought was that there must be many people who look at the instructions and toss it all in the trash. And then there are those who have no idea where to find a notary or even what one is. And, how do they get there if they don’t have transportation? Even my most educated friends have been confused and confounded. So, I became a notary to help people get through the process. I wasn’t the only one. It turned out that we were going into the strangest election to date in my lifetime with Donald Trump running against Hillary Clinton. Not surprisingly, many others in our state had the same reaction I did and became notaries. There is a Facebook page where they organized us to go to locations to help before that Presidential election. Anyway, that was my first step to help in elections.

For myself, I have new ways to prepare for elections. I can go online and read the ballot thoroughly before I go to the polls, even printing or taking a picture of the actual ballot. I got through every candidate and look up everything about them, from their campaign pages to their social media to every news item I can find. I listen to their speeches, check what organizations fund them or who endorses them or what they do in their lives. Voting for judges and school board members used to be pretty routine. No more. I’ve looked up judges to see who appointed them in the first place and found clues in their biographies that alert me to how they might vote. It’s a virtual detective game but our lives and the future of our country seem to depend on all of us taking more time to think about our votes and then actually getting our votes counted.

I’ve written before about the 7th Generation Rule, taken from an Iroquois saying, that we must make decisions based on how it will affect our grandchildren’s grandchildren’s grandchildren. We can’t continue to live in the moment only.

On my darkest days, I’ve decided that human beings are going to be extinct. We aren’t kind to each other and we don’t take care of the planet. We’re bent on destroying everyone and everything around us. Then I look at my grandchildren and I want them to be able to look to their grandchildren’s futures and I dig in and work to make my own little corner of the universe a little bit better for them.

I won’t tell you to vote, because a lot of people vote without thinking about what or who they are voting for. In our last election, 34% of the voters checked the straight party box. And only a small percentage even showed up. But, if you care, don’t give up. We can’t afford to give up.