Kofi Anan once said, "No one is born a good citizen; no nation is born a democracy. Rather, both are processes that continue to evolve over a lifetime." These processes are never more evident than when elections come around. With lawn signs, TV ads, phone calls and more, it's a rich time for grandparents and all older adults to teach young people how important it is to be a good citizen.
Voting is an essential element of a democracy. Yet voter turnout is usually lower during mid-term elections. Skipping the opportunity to vote sends the wrong message to the next generation.
My vote doesn't matter.
Three-quarters of grandparents say voting is a value they are passing down, or they are interested in passing down, to their grandchildren. Consistently demonstrating its importance is critical.
Don't wait until the next election cycle to begin introducing your grandchildren and other young people to the value of voting. Consider these ideas and start now.
1. Make voting an intergenerational experience.
Take your grandchild or a neighborhood teenager to the polls. You can celebrate afterwards with a treat and talk about the experience. If you volunteer at a polling place, invite them to come by and help you out for an hour. Talk to your local county election officials about how to encourage grandparents to bring their grandchildren to the polls with them. Develop it into a community-wide activity.
2. Help your grandchild or another young adult register to vote.
If your grandchild is 18 or older and not registered, get them registered. You can do this online or even more fun, if you live in the same area, take them in person and then have lunch.
3. Discuss how every vote counts.
One way to make this come alive for your grandchildren is to create a voting timeline that shows how voting rights have been established and threatened over the years. Personalize it by indicating the first year you voted and noting significant aspects of the elections you remember most vividly. Discuss how every individual vote counts in every election.
4. Vote for the future.
A recent poll found the majority of Americans believe that publicly funded programs targeted at specific age groups such as K-12 or Social Security are not burdensome responsibilities to certain age groups, but investments that benefit all generations. Talk with your grandchildren about a ballot initiative that you voted for that didn't directly impact you, but you knew was a good investment in the future, their future.
5. Take a tour of your town.
Use voting as an opportunity to learn more about your hometown, as well as your grandparent or grandchild. Take your grandchildren on a walking, or virtual, tour of your community's civic buildings and talk about what happens inside. Visit the buildings where local decisions are made (i.e. Mayor's office, city council, state capital, etc.). Talk about the political process and the ways young people can get involved.
6. Write a letter together to an elected official.
Find an issue you both care about, whether it's a new crosswalk, investing in high-quality education, protecting the environment or ensuring people of all ages have access to health care. Show them if it's important, it's important enough to take the time to express your opinion.
7. Organize an intergenerational dialogue in your community.
Work with youth, senior and civic groups to orchestrate an event to mull over the question-how can we get to 100% voter participation in our community? Vote on and prioritize the ideas before sending the results to local officials for consideration.
8. Recruit other older adults and volunteer together in a school.
There are a number of terrific intergenerational programs that support transferring civic values from one generation to another. In Chanute, Kansas, for example, older adult volunteers and high school students developed these discussion questions together:
• Women and their history of voting: I remember my mother talking about when she was first allowed to vote...
• Why people choose a certain party: When President Roosevelt was elected my parents found out...
• Each vote makes a difference. Some of the closest elections were...
• Susan B Anthony and her suffrage activism was not enough to get women the right to vote before she died. Her efforts included...
• The voting age requirement was not always at 18. I remember when...
As grandparents, grand-aunts and uncles and caring adults, we all have a responsibility and an opportunity to keep our country strong and invest in our citizens of the future.