Exercising a Solemn Right

By Brad McEwen

Since he relocated to the Georgia coast a few weeks ago, I don’t get to chat with my father-in-law as often as I used to, so it was nice to have a chance to briefly catch-up the other day even though he could only talk for a few minutes.

I figured he was probably running a quick errand or going to visit a new neighbor, so I was a little surprised when he told me he was actually headed to a city finance committee meeting in Brunswick.

Before I could even ask why, he went on to say that since he and my mother-in-law had made the move to the Glynn County seat—literally just a few weeks ago—he had also already attended a St. Simon’s Island planning commission meeting and that he had designs on turning up at as many governmental meetings he could.

While it’s certainly not out of the ordinary for Bud Greco to pay close attention to what is happening in local government, I was still struck that he would be making it such a priority so soon after moving to a new community. Heck, he and Pam are still living in a temporary rental house, with the bulk of their belongings in storage.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how cool it is that a brand new resident of his community would make a concerted effort to keep abreast of the important issues that affect his community and look for ways to get involved.

It’s so easy in today’s fast-paced world to get wrapped up in the daily minutia of our lives, that I think we sometimes forget about some of the important things taking place in our communities every day, and for a great many of us, staying connected to our government often takes a back seat.

And while I certainly don’t have the time attend every meeting of our city and county commissions, our other governmental committees or our school board (although I could probably make it to more than I currently do), I was reminded during my chat with Bud that I have been blessed with the powerful ability to make my voice heard and to help guide the direction of my community.

And I’m not alone.

In fact, just a few days from now some 6,300-plus Albany residents will once again have a chance to realize that power when the voters of Albany’s Ward II can make the trip to their local polling precinct to exercise what I believe is one of the most fundamentally important rights belonging to a citizen of these United States.

In our often jaded modern times, when people would rather take to social media to share their anger and frustration over their state of their country and communities, than show up at the ballot box, I know it might sound trite to celebrate the opportunity to vote for a city commissioner. But now, perhaps more than ever, I think it’s important for us to remember that awesome gift we have been given as citizens of this country.

As I watch news reports of civil unrest unfolding across the globe, and see how the citizens of countries like North Korea are treated, I can’t help but think about how precious our right to vote really is. While millions, nay billions, of citizens living under the yoke of authoritarian regimes, are being dictated to and having their rights stripped away, the citizens of this country, and of this community, have prospered under a democratic structure that guarantees the right to vote.

I’m certainly not naïve and I understand there’s plenty of discord and struggle in this country, but I do take solace knowing our society can still collectively chose its path. And I’m humbled each time I get to influence that direction at the national, state or local level.

Even when I’ve been discouraged by the difficult issues at stake during each election, I’ve always been filled with a feeling of peace knowing I had participated in the process of representative government that thousands of brave patriots before me had fought for and died protecting.

I still remember how proud I felt when I turned 18 and was given my first opportunity to earn a coveted “I voted” sticker. I can easily recall how equally excited I was two years later when I was given the opportunity to help choose our commander in chief.

There was just something powerful in the knowledge that I was a voter and that I had a say.

In the intervening years I have yet to miss an election, consistently taking my turn in the booth to make my voice heard and exercise my conscience. Naturally I’ve been thrilled when the candidate of my choosing prevailed and I’ve been disappointed when the leader I’ve backed failed to reach or retain office. But I’ve never regretted taking the time to make a choice.

I’ve voted for presidents, federal and state senators and reps, school board officials, Dougherty County and city of Albany commissioners, sheriffs, coroners, you name it. I even registered to vote in Athens-Clarke County when I attended UGA so I could have a say in what was going on in that community while living there.

I did the same two years later when I graduated and moved to Stephens County on the eve of a local election. And re-registering in Dougherty County was one of the first things I did when I moved home.

During those times, and now, I felt it was imperative that I take part in what great men of history, patriots like Samuel Adams, consider “one of the most solemn trusts in human society.”

I’ve never believed my vote didn’t count and I’ve never used that as an excuse to not fulfill my civic duty of helping to shape the course of my society. I believe strongly, like former President John Quincy Adams, that as long as I’m voting for the person who best represents the principles I stand for, my vote will always matter.

“Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost,” Adams is quoted as saying.

Perhaps just as importantly, by taking the time to exercise my right to vote I’ve also been prompted to pay closer attention to what my leaders were doing with the powers they’ve been granted and to better understand the issues facing all of us.

As my understanding of the power of the vote has grown, I’ve been inspired to be more like my father, stepfather and father-in-law—striving to learn more about what’s going so I can make an informed decision.

I’ve even come to think that maybe the true power of the right to vote is not just showing support for one candidate or the next, but rather staying engaged in the world around me, broadening my understanding of the issues, and having a real influence, no matter how small, on the future of my community.

As parent I want my children to inherit a world like mine, where average citizens are given the opportunity to shape tomorrow, and for me voting is at the core of that desire. So even when I’ve been discouraged about the direction of my city, county, state or country, I’ve tried to hold on to the idea that if I don’t take the time to swing by the polling precinct and exercise my right to vote, I’m somehow giving up on my future.

And I care too much about all my loved ones and friends to ever do that.

So as another election day approaches, I hope everyone, even if they don’t live in Ward II, can take a moment to reflect on what it means to be an American and how truly awesome it is that we have the right to choose.   

Connect with Brad – 229.405.7212 - brad.mcewen@abtgold.com - @BradGMcEwen