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Annie Leonard Headshot

Waving the White Flag

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Let's say your car is stolen. Irresponsible hoodlums take it for an out-of-control joyride, drive the wrong way down a one-way street, terrorize innocent pedestrians and cut donuts on the lawn in front of City Hall. If you get a chance to take it back, do you shrug and say, "No, they can keep it. That car sucks so bad I'm not going to drive anymore"?

I didn't think so. But that's the same attitude as people who -- dismayed by the hijacking of American democracy by corporate polluters, Wall Street fat cats and corrupt politicians-for-hire -- decide it's not important to vote.

My vote can't make a difference. All politicians are the same. Sitting it out is better than voting for the lesser of two evils.

No, no and no. Think about it:

• If voting didn't matter, would Susan B. Anthony and Julia Ward Howe have dedicated their lives working to secure passage of the Nineteenth Amendment?

• If voting didn't matter, would Martin Luther King, Jr., have led the March on Washington to push for the 1965 Voting Rights Act?

• If voting didn't matter, would there be such a big effort underway in more than a dozen states to keep voters - especially older, disabled, low-income or immigrant voters - away from the polls?

As Whoopi Goldberg says in this spot for the American Civil Liberties Union: "Every person who loses the right to vote takes us one more step away from being a nation of free people."

We all know people who think voting doesn't make a difference. It's not that they are apathetic -- some are activists who have fought so long and so hard against pollution or poverty or racism that they've given in to despair.

Sometimes it's easy to feel that way. But not voting is defeatist. It's waving a white flag. It's a cynicism we cannot afford if we want to make a better world.

I know who I'm voting for on Election Day, and you probably do, too. I don't think my guy is perfect. I don't have to, because voting is not a 100 percent endorsement. It's tactical. Some candidates move us closer to our desired future; some move us farther away. In the real world, tactical voting may even mean voting for the candidate who will move us the least farther away.

Voting may not be the most exciting way of working for change. But it is the bottom-line responsibility of an engaged citizen. In a recent episode of our podcast The Good Stuff, Eric Liu, a former adviser in the Clinton White House and founder of the Guiding Lights Network, said citizenship is about "how you show up in the world" - and in a democracy, voting is the most basic way of showing up.

So don't hand over the keys to our democracy to those who don't care if we drive off a cliff. If you're not registered to vote, do it now, as the deadline is nearing in many states. Learn about the candidates. Then remember to vote. (There's an app for that.)

Vote your values. Vote your dreams. Vote to reward those looking out for people and the planet and vote to send the others packing.

The fat cat super PACs may be able to outspend us, but they can only outvote us if we let them. As Alice Walker says, "The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any." Voting is power. Let's use it.

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