ESSAY: Finding a Voice

by Glennis Drew

As we survey the political landscape there are many who decry the seeming apathy among young people who did not vote in the recent election.

Some young adults, no doubt, are apathetic. Children learn what they see. Maybe Mom and Dad didn’t vote from a 60s-era conviction that “it won’t make any difference,” or maybe it goes back farther than that — to Grandpa and Grandma saying, “All I want is to be left alone and have government stay out of my business.” As if by the act of voting you give everything and get nothing.

But it wasn’t the government that stopped the war and got out of Vietnam or Iraq. It was a concerted, day to day, laborious process by individuals willing to get arrested and unwilling to be shouted down.

In some cases, young parents are too overwhelmed with responsibilities.

Another segment of the population would vote if they could but they lost that privilege when they made bad choices. Once a felon — never a voter. It seems like no big deal when a person is 18 and agreeing to anything offered to stay out of jail. Then maturity sets in at 25 and maybe they have someone they love and a child on the way and a low paying but steady job and they see things more clearly and understand what they gave up.

There should be a process in place whereby the privilege and right could be earned back — a process that might mimic the one refugees go through to become citizens. At some point, every punishment needs to end.

Students need to be taught change can only occur in incremental steps — someone is not going to come along and fix all the world’s problems by leading the brave and strong in one great battle of good against evil. And if that did happen, there is no guarantee good would win.

There is something you can do to score a personal touchdown.

You can make a money donation to a cause you believe in.

You can learn to knit and make pink hats.

You can volunteer to pack boxes or stuff envelopes at the Vermont Foodbank

You can serve the free lunch at your church for the hungry and lonely.

You can mentor a child.

You can volunteer to drive for Green Mountain Transit so a senior can get to a doctor appointment.

Many years ago, I wrote a letter to the Editor of The Times Argus. I was appalled by the way a high school student was being portrayed in the media — a young boy whose poor choices and decisions — on one fateful night — led to the accidental death of his older brother. In spite of feeling that I was alone in my opinion, I knew I had to write, so I did.

After my letter appeared, my phone rang. It was the mother of the boy. “The district attorney told us that EVERYONE wanted our son to be convicted. THANK YOU so much for your letter!”

Another time I saw an accident. I had stopped my car and was waiting for someone to cross the street when that person was hit by another car. I stayed where I was, waiting for police to arrive and take my statement. When the police did arrive, the officer kept waving me away. I stuck to my spot. “I am a witness. I saw what happened and I want to make a statement,” I said. All he would do was write down my name and number.

I didn’t hear a thing for two years. Then my phone rang one day and a woman asked me if I had witnessed an accident two years ago. She was the victim. Her lawyer never got the accident report. She had been through two years of litigation where they denied that she had been hit until she, herself went to the police and got their report. There, on the top margin, was my name and number. She asked me to write a statement and send it to her lawyer. I did. I never heard from her but I am certain I helped her.

It is hard to get up and be among people who are not part of your inner circle. Our cave-dwelling ancestors learned that the one who makes noise and stands out is the one that becomes dinner for a predator. Even now, it is the one leading the march who is the target for the sniper. Not everyone has the fortitude to lead the march. But everyone can be part of the movement. And sometimes, all you have to do is stand your ground.

If you care about the planet or the government or the next generation, if you care about people, DO something. Join in the march, write the letter, wear the hat, step into the school and read to a child.

In the words of Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; … indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. … ”

The writer is a mentor coordinator at Barre City Elementary and Middle School.