What’s On My Mind: It’s time to take our values to the ballot box

It has, to put it mildly, been an eventful few weeks in U.S. politics. Just when we thought the national conversation couldn’t get more contentious, emotions in the Capitol reached a boiling point, and the polarization we hear so much about was on full, livid display. After such an outpouring, it’s tempting to plead emotional exhaustion and check out.

But, in fact, now is the time for each of us to fully engage as citizens and put our own values to work. With the commencement of early balloting in Tennessee, it’s time to vote.

Whatever our political leanings, whatever our takeaway from recent events, where we go from here as a nation is down to you and me. Each of us has a precious right to vote that we are obligated to exercise.

Why “obligated”? For as much as blaming politicians and big money is a national pastime, our nation’s direction is ultimately up to us, the voters. So if you like how things are going, say “encore” at the ballot box. If you want change, casting a vote for the challenger can have big repercussions. There are no guarantees that your vote will be with the winning candidate or issue, of course. And influencing policy long-term requires engagement on the other 364 days of the year as well. But as stewards of our democracy, voting is both the bare minimum we can do and an elegantly powerful act.

We have a similar obligation as members of the Vanderbilt community. Legislative levers pulled in Washington and here in Nashville affect lives on campus in numerous ways. Our elected officials have the final call on government funding for research and student aid. They influence wages, working conditions and health care. They also set the tone of our national conversation about higher education—about the value of a college degree and what is or is not appropriate inquiry, debate and speech. We help shape all of these important decisions by casting our votes.

Over the last year, Vanderbilt took part in Project Register, a nonpartisan initiative that Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper and Republican State Sen. Steve Dickerson created to increase voter registration in Tennessee. With those numbers nicely boosted, we’re now on a campaign to remind faculty, staff and students to cast their ballots and to encourage their friends and families to do the same.

Democracy can be grueling work. Civic life can be bruising. But that’s when patriots Anchor Down. Between now and Nov. 6, be sure to vote.