How Do You Encourage an Apolitical Person to Vote?

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Dear Miriam,

I have a few family members and friends who still somehow say things to me like, “I’m not political,” when I bring up current policies in our country or the upcoming midterm elections. How should I respond to them and convince them to be educated about our government and to vote in November?

Signed,

Midterm Mania

 

Dear Mania,

This is a crazy time to be an American. I know, because I’m living it, too, and there has never been as troubling a political time in my lifetime. Except when there has (I’m looking at you, hanging chad). I am in no way minimizing the extremeness going on right now, which literally keeps me up at night, but I also know that it’s possible to point to many other moments in history, both recent and less recent, and say, “How did our democracy survive that?”

I sort of believe all that, but more significantly, I know that others believe it. You can certainly try to make a compelling argument to loved ones about why right now matters — and it does — but you can’t force anyone to care or to vote.

What you can do is listen carefully to the things they do care about, and help them to make the connections. Whether they’re complaining about potholes, child care or how much something costs, there are literally connections to everything related to how things get funded and how our government works.

Tell them there are candidates running in November who are working on these issues that could impact their lives directly. You’ll have to educate yourself to do this effectively, but it sounds like you’re up for the challenge. You can talk to them in gentle ways about voter registration (deadline in Pennsylvania is Oct. 9) and about making a plan for getting to the polls on Nov. 6.

You can joke with them about voting as a personal favor to you and try to get them to agree. You can follow up with them on Election Day to get them to follow through, even if they still don’t exactly care. I also encourage you to try the tactic of explaining to them why voting itself is powerful and important. A (very) brief history of voting rights (women only got the right to vote in 1920) and voter suppression could make the act itself seem significant to otherwise jaded non-politicos.

Not caring about politics and thinking that laws don’t impact your life is itself an extremely privileged position. If the people you’re talking about are open to listening to you at all, you can gently show them the ways in which their vote can amplify the voices of those who are less privileged. Calling them out for their privilege, though, as righteous as it might feel to you, is unlikely to help your cause at this moment.

If you can’t get through to your family and friends, you can be frustrated, but don’t despair. Find other friends and community groups and allies who do care about our country as much as you do in the ways that you do.

Volunteer for Get Out the Vote efforts or for a particular candidate. Find out about the needs at your local polling place and how you can get involved in making it easier for people in your neighborhood to get to the polls. Educate yourself about the issues so you’re available as a resource when someone wants to know more but doesn’t know where to start.

Don’t give up on the people closest to you, but don’t give up if you can’t get through to them either.

Be well,

Miriam

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