What is the most important subject taught in school? Years ago I would have said physical education. Some of you might say English or math. The arts are also important. A good friend of mine would say home economics, which no longer goes by that name. Now that I am older and, I hope, a bit wiser, I think it is civics, or now known as government and citizenship.
My high school civics teacher was Mr. Mesken. He was a very good teacher because he put a bit of passion into his teaching. He taught civics as if it were the most important high school course. When I took the required civics class in ninth grade, I had no idea what it was. As I recall I didn’t do very well in it because my interest was in sports and hunting and girls in reverse order.
I am sure Mr. Mesken talked about a lot of things that at the time were of little interest to me. I am sure he talked about the three branches of government, about the Constitution and Bill of Rights. I am sure he mentioned the Supreme Court and maybe he even gave us a test on the names of the members.
He also, no doubt, talked about local government and the duties of the mayor and city council. He must have inserted a lesson or two or three on taxes and why we need to pay them. He was elected mayor for many years and did, as far as I know, a pretty good job. I say that because I never heard of people complaining about the mayor and in a small town, word gets around.
I wonder if students take civics more seriously today than in my day. I sincerely hope they do. I hope today’s civics teachers give special attention to why it is so important to vote, which I am sure Mr. Mesken covered in detail. If you had to quickly list five or 10 reasons why voting is important, what would you say?
If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain about the roads, the police force, our military, taxes, the president, and so on. By not voting, you have thrown in the towel. You have given up. You’re saying , “It doesn’t matter.” As adults, you and I know It is our duty to vote. Whoever said, “Decisions are made by those who show up” is right on target. Show up and vote.
If you want change, you have to vote. If you don’t want change, you have to vote. Do you want to make a positive impact? Voting gives you that chance. Every time you vote you are saying, “I can make a difference!” Vote.
When you vote, have a good reason for voting. The very first time I voted, I voted for Nixon. My reason was overly simple. He was Eisenhower’s vice president and my grandmother thought Eisenhower was a nice man. I figured that if Ike picked Nixon as his vice president, he must be a nice man, too. Fortunately, he lost to Kennedy who turned out to be even a nicer man. I hope you have better reasons to vote than I did in the 1960s. Think before you vote.
It’s important to vote because all of us need to be a role model for others. Our communities are made up of friends, loved ones, neighbors, and children. Some may not know how important voting is, while others don’t have the privilege. Make the decision to vote not just for yourself but for those around you. Voting means you care about others.
If you pay taxes, you must vote. You pay taxes, but do you know how that money is being used? Voting is your chance to choose how your tax dollars are spent –- such as funding for health care and social services and for the police and firefighters. If you care about how your money is spent, vote.
Every election has consequences. Some elections may benefit you and some may not. You have the power to decide on the quality of life you want for yourself and future generations. Voting is your chance to stand up for the issues you care about like public transportation, raising minimum wage, or funding local schools. If you care about your life, the life of your children and grandchildren, vote.
We vote because we live in a republic, which means that the power is in the people who elect a president and not in a monarch, king or emperor, who has absolute power and can do anything, any time to any one. Each time we vote we are saying that we support our republic. When Benjamin Franklin was asked, “What have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” He answered, “A republic, if you can keep it!” When we vote, we say we like our republic. Vote to keep it.
We vote because we get that great little red and white sticker that says, “I voted.” We wear it with pride because we have done our duty as a citizen. We may not make a lot of money. We may not drive a fancy car or live in a fancy house. We may live from paycheck to paycheck but when we wear that red and white “I voted” sticker we are sending a message that says, “I care and I did something about it.” Vote.
Mr. Mesken passed away a few years ago. He was a civics teacher to the end. I know that because sixty-three years later I am still repeating his salient message -- vote.
Riddle: How do you spell “Mississippi” with one “i”? (Close one eye and spell it.) When you vote, make sure you have both eyes open.
High school graduates are more likely to vote than people who haven’t graduated from high school. It’s true. Vote to support our schools!
John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.