Commentary: It is often said that Your Vote is Your Voice, but voting is the culmination of an ongoing process in which we identify issues that concern or interest us. Then we respond through the ballot and other means, such as interactions with our elected officials. The issues on which we vote are often complex and we make better decisions about them when we gather information and test our ideas against those of others. The League of Women Voters was created in 1920 with the goal of educating newly enfranchised women voters. That is, the right to vote was viewed as an important step, but not the only responsibility of citizens living in a democracy.
Engaged voters think critically about issues. When our thinking is challenged, we can choose to act with defensiveness, “digging in our heels,” or we can listen, learn, and even clarify our own positions, taking action on the basis of new information.
Discussions of the current state of our political world emphasize that U.S. citizens are divided on crucial issues. A more fundamental problem is our interaction on these issues, frequently relying on slogans and sound bites. As in the recent discussions of the federal infrastructure bills, the debate may focus on one or two elements rather than the whole of the matter. It’s not always clear whether the debates are about the dollar total (generally expressed over a 10-year period) or about the physical and human infrastructure to be provided by those dollars.
How do we move in a more productive direction? One suggestion is to speak from our own experiences to explain our positions and thoughts, setting aside the standard buzzwords. In his book On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, Timothy Snyder says, “Think up your own way of speaking, even if only to convey that thing you think everyone is saying.” Instead of yielding to the temptation to repeat a sound bite, we can provide detail on what the issue means to us and how it relates to our hopes and fears. When people are simply shouting slogans at one another, there are not likely to be efforts to understand a different point of view.
Listening carefully to better understand the thinking of those with whom we have strong disagreements, may lead to healthier conversations. We may need to investigate the arguments in support of our own, as well as opposing positions, and make sure that what we are communicating is reasonable. In addition, we can communicate with our elected officials on a regular basis, both when we have concerns or complaints and when we are pleased with their actions. A League member recently remarked that he considers the day wasted if he has not communicated with a public official. While we may not have that perspective, we can continue to seek better ways to communicate, with a goal to have respectful dialogue that enhances understanding and advances public interest.
Eileen VanWie and Kathy Brook-Co-Presidents-League of Women Voters of Southern New Mexico