"What happens if you don't vote?"
The question came from a fourth grade boy who has, for months, been listening to me blather on about the election and the political process and true joy that comes from casting your vote. He raised his hand this morning and quite politely said, "what happens if you don't vote?".
Hmmm. Nothing, absolutely nothing.
For me, not voting has never been an option. I registered to vote on my 18th birthday and look forward to election day like many count down to vacation.
"So you don't get in trouble?"
No, you don't get in trouble, not at all. But you silence yourself and say, in a very quiet way, that your opinion doesn't matter. It's like sitting in class all day with your hand up and not expecting anyone to call on you. It's accepting the idea that someone else is going to make decisions for you, without your input, which, especially in fourth grade, is not ideal. It's letting your mom pick out your clothes every single day.
When I was in fourth grade, my favorite classmate was Jim. We spent all our time vying for the coveted title of class clown, talking out of turn and engaging classmates in our antics, to the certain exasperation of Mrs. Grow. Rather than concern ourselves with the presidential election we spent out time re-enacting the John Cameron Swayze Timex commercials that ran so frequently during 1976 television, "takes a licking and keeps on ticking". Jim and I are now almost 40 years older. John Cameron Swayze has died, as has President Ford (Jimmy Carter, like a Timex, still ticking). Yesterday I got a very long email from Jim, imploring me, and others, to consider his human rights before I voted, his rights as a man who wants to marry but in Florida, where he lives, he is unable. No longer disrupting the class but, like me, still finding his voice and working to be heard. They are my rights too, they are human rights.
"What if you were offered a choice, say to have an extra recess or extra free choice time in the classroom, and you didn't raise your hand to vote for either option. And then what if the class decided to have recess and you really wanted free choice time? When you don't vote, you sacrifice your voice and your right to complain about what is happening in your classroom, or in your country", which was part of my response to the fourth grade student who was worried about the punishment for not voting.
You don't have to vote, you don't get in trouble and no one takes away your after school playground time if you don't, but you should, because you can. And when you do, consider fourth grade and what you thought then, and what you think now, and remember how much you hated not being able to chose what you wanted to wear to school.