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Suffragettes, Sanders, and When to Vote

  A woman holds a "Bernie" sign at a Bernie Sanders for President rally in Ames, IA. (Photo & caption:  Gregory Hauenstein/flickr/cc)

My Aunt Louisa was a suffragette. As a girl she ran away from home and a well-planned future. She secretly took the train from Annapolis to Boston, and enrolled herself at Radcliffe College before they noticed her missing. She became a mathematician, a teacher, a Quaker, and a suffragette. At no small risk to herself, she rallied and marched and held signs, and she was there when the right to vote was finally granted.

That right was hard won, and until recently I had never imagined abstaining. The power of electoral input was granted American women, only after years of struggle, in 1919. We have been able to vote for almost one hundred years. That is a mere blip in time in the course of political power, yet within that time we have produced female politicians and even female contenders for the White House. We’ve come a long way, baby.

“How can you even think of not voting?” my mother would demand in my younger, more apolitical days. I would shrug with adolescent non-nonchalance, but in the end I would always turn up at the polls. Other women had suffered to win us this right, and I could not let them down, or myself. This was important.

I did not always vote wisely at first, but my choices improved as I became more informed, until finally my choices began to reflect the world view that I had created. My world view is inclusive and implies a certain degree of freedom, integrity and social responsibility. For everyone, including the environment. We can reflect our worldviews to others via our votes. How amazing, how magical, how privileged!

But what happens when none of the candidates represents something you can endorse? Who gets your vote if all possible platforms violate your sense of community, and no platforms fit in with your world view? What if you can’t put your name, or your mark, on any of them? Is that a time to not vote as a protest? Would it betray all those women who fought for the vote? Would anyone notice, or would it just be a quiet act of silent desperation, unseen and unknown? The polls don’t talk, after all.

This is exactly where I was until about right now. Until about right now I was wondering how our democracy could slide so uncontestedly close to oligarchy. How could such vast income inequality become acceptable, allowed, and somehow sanctioned? How could we declare corporations people and let them control entire political parties and determine electoral outcomes? May the richest man win? Is that who we are?


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I refused to accept it, to settle for it, to allow it. I scanned the arena for a primary candidate who was owned by no one and who would act as a true representative of the people, and I found none. Each is owned and behind each is a puppet master pulling the strings and it doesn’t matter what we vote, the outcome is already signed, sealed and delivered.

I was angry and not voting seemed like the largest vote of no confidence I could muster. I would refuse to endorse the corporate puppets. None of them represented my world view, and I would not have this on my head. Until about right now there was no alternative, and it was not only women’s votes that were rendered meaningless. All votes were equally unimportant.

Benito Mussolini is said to have described fascism as “corporatism, since it is the merger of state and corporate power." That sounds an awful lot like what we are facing here, now, and today. But recently a solution turned up. On April 20, the senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, announced his candidacy for the democratic primaries. Even though he knows he is the underdog, he is getting his message out, and his biggest point is that he is unowned. Nobody owns Bernie Sanders. He has made this very clear. His idea of a super pac is 200 million people with $1 each. He told the corporations that he does not want their support, and advised the 1% to not vote for him because it would be against their own self-interest. The audacity, the bravery, the honesty!

Suddenly I can think of voting again. Didn’t Underdog used to save the day? The senator from Vermont has made his platform clear. It includes investment in our national infrastructure and the reversing of climate change with renewable energy. He said he will break up the banks because too big to fail means too big to exist, he sees health care as a right, he has pledged to protect the most vulnerable, and proposed real tax reform. He even has a consistent record dating back to the civil rights movement to back his platform. He is offering an umbrella to cover just about everyone, and even the 1% can relax, because when rampant inequality ends, they’ll get to keep their heads.

An honest candidate has finally arisen in the capitol, a champion of the very spirit that won us the vote. Bernie Sanders has restored the people’s voice and returned their interests to primacy. It turns a no confidence no-vote into a yes vote of full confidence. I want to vote again, and I can’t wait to vote in this election.

After all, my Aunt Louisa was a suffragette.

Mary Petiet

Mary Petiet

Mary Petiet is a registered voter. Find her work in Edible Cape Cod Magazine, the Enterprise Newspapers, and Parent Co. She has pending articles in STIR Journal and the Manifest-Station. Her book Minerva’s Owls, which reinterprets old stories in new ways to create a new future, is scheduled for release by Homebound Publications in April, 2017. Follow her on twitter @maryblairpetiet

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