Find Your Voice and Vote!

Hey, congratulations on turning 18! You made it through the worst of adolescence and you’re trying out life as an adult. It can be fun and scary, sometimes both at the same time. Discovering what issues are important to you is a big first step into adulthood. And once you figure out what’s important, it’s time to vote.

Yup. I’m that guy bugging you to vote. In Washington State if you’re 18 or will turn 18 by November 6th you can still register to vote in person but you have to act fast–today is the last day! In Snohomish County that means you have until 5pm tonight to get to the County Auditor’s office. I promise that getting the ability to vote in this election will be well worth your trouble.

You might be new to this whole adulting thing, but perhaps you’re already a little jaded about politics. I can’t blame you. The last few years have been the most politically chaotic I’ve experienced in my lifetime. But I promise that finding out what’s important to you and where you stand on political issues will help you make informed decisions when it’s time to fill out that ballot.

The Washington State voters’ pamphlet–pick one up at the library if you need one–is your key to the issues and candidates on the ballot. Beyond that, you might have some soul-searching to do. That’s where this reading list comes into play. These books are aimed at young voices looking for something to say and will help you select the best candidates on the ballot that uphold the same priorities and values that you do.

First, let’s dive into the issues. Steal This Country: A Handbook for Resistance, Persistence, and Fixing Almost Everything by Alexandra Styron brings together essays, profiles, and interviews to help you understand the issues and help you determine how you feel about them. From LGBTQIA rights and racial justice to climate change and immigration, this comprehensive book can be your companion as you discover what’s important to you. Be sure to check out the bibliography in the back. It’s divided by topic and lists books, documentaries, articles, and organizations you can seek out to go even more in-depth.

Next, let’s read about what political passion and social activism look like to different people. How I Resist: Activism and Hope for a New Generation edited by Maureen Johnson brings together a diverse and dynamic group of voices that come from all angles: the literary world, entertainment, and political activists. There are essays, interviews, a comic strip, and even sheet music! Together they’ll give you hope and inspiration as you explore the many different ways to raise your voice and be heard.

Girls Resist: A Guide to Activism, Leadership, and Starting a Revolution by KaeLyn Rich may be written expressly for girls, but I’m here to tell you the information inside can be useful to everyone regardless of gender. This book takes the ideas, causes, and issues that are important to you and gives you the framework to take action. Do you want to start a volunteer group? What about a political campaign? Could social media be a way to reach other like-minded folks? And how do you explain all of this to your parents? KaeLyn Rich is an activist who is the Assistant Advocacy Director of the ACLU of New York. She knows just how to break it down.

You are Mighty: A Guide to Changing the World by Caroline Paul and illustrated by Lauren Tamaki is the book you can hand to your younger brother or sister who see you getting energized. Maybe they want to help you with your cause or have a different one of their own. They’re too young to vote but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing they can do to effect change. Some of the tactics discussed, including raising money and boycotting, are tactics you can use too. What better way to feel closer to your siblings than to protest together?

So. Do you feel ready? The truth is even as adults we’re constantly learning new things and over time we can sometimes change our mind. The issues we cared about when we were younger might cease to be important to us or a change in our life may cause us to see the topic from a completely different angle. These books will give you the critical thinking and organizational skills you need to keep up with whatever life throws at you. All that’s left to do is cast your vote.

900 Words about Vox

As someone who is a loud supporter of reading for fun and the joys of happy story endings, it came as a complete shock to me that I very much enjoyed reading a dystopian novel that had me yelling out loud and, at one point (sorry, colleagues!) throwing the book across the room. Literally threw it like it was on fire. One of the most powerful books I’ve read this summer is set in a dystopia. I’m still grappling with this reality.

Dystopian novels are not known for happiness and wit, but the discerning reader can find both in Vox by Christina Dalcher.

This dystopian mind-f*ck posits a creepily plausible near future where the American government has created a series of laws restricting women. Women are no longer allowed to travel outside the United States. They can’t work or hold political office and their daughters are only taught basic math and home keeping in schools. Their brothers, however, get a robust education including religious indoctrination and bias-affirming readings that brainwash them into seriously believing men are superior to women and that keeping women silenced and in the home is for the betterment of society.

The absolute worst part? All American women (yup, kids and babies too) now have to wear a locked wrist device that monitors their words. Each female is allowed 100 words per day–this includes sign language, gestures, and other non-verbal communication. If you speak past 100 words before your device resets at midnight you get a shock. Another word? Another shock–only stronger this time.

It’s a damn nightmare.

The book is told through the eyes of Dr. Jean McClellan. Before the silencing, she was a well-respected linguistic scientist. During the silencing Jean is like every other American woman, which is to say she is held hostage in her new role: being a nearly-wordless woman whose only job is to serve her husband and raise her kids. When the book opens we’re about a year into the silencing and though Jean feels that bucking the system is an impossibility, she is strong of spirit and still possesses the quick-witted mind that made her the incredibly renowned linguistic expert she was before society imploded. She wants a better life for all women, but especially for her three-year-old daughter who is growing up with this as her reality.

The narrative switches back and forth from present day to the past. I often find this jarring in books but Dalcher does this nearly seamlessly and the slow burn reveals of the past, along with foreshadowing of the horrors that are to come, keep the suspense building even when you think you know what’s going on.

Jean reflects throughout the book on her previous complete political apathy. Back in college she scoffed at her roommate’s attempts to get her involved in grassroots political rallies against social injustice, preferring instead to study and focus on her boyfriend, her future. She bathed in privilege but, as privilege goes, was so cocooned from marginalized and concerned folks that she didn’t even realize how sheltered she was. Her future was guaranteed, so why should she spend time worrying about it or fighting against the mere possibility that future society could go sideways? She thought it was pointless to vote–a waste of precious time–and considered it completely unlikely anyone so overzealous would be voted into the Presidency in modern times.

Jean also discovers that monsters aren’t born, they’re made–and often through no ill intentions, but through apathy. In particular, she’s horrified to recognize her oldest son has evolved into a monster. In flashbacks we see him slowly over time vocalizing increasingly demeaning opinions about the girls in his class and women in general. Back when she could talk, sometimes Jean would challenge him at the dinner table. He’d then mention the readings they were doing in school and how religion is now a required class. Jean would think “School is weird now” but never questioned the school administration about requiring misogynistic opinion to be taught as the law of nature or why one specific religion was taught as a required class in a public school

Her husband wasn’t much help either. He often brushed off Jean’s comments as ‘boys will be boys’ but the saying silence is acceptance proves true here. By the time Jean realizes what her son has started to believe, she literally doesn’t have enough words to talk him back off the ledge because she’s required to wear that damn wrist device. Like Jean, I refuse to call it a bracelet and diminish the horrifying evil the device represents: both in the physical pain it creates but especially in representing the completely upside-down reality that made this device a legislated mandate.

This is all to say that the flashbacks peppered in with the book’s current reality are a great way to let the reader see how the dystopian society got to where it is and allows us to draw parallels between that fictional America and the one we’re living in today.

Creepily. Plausible. Near. Future.

Despite this dark tone, the very first line of the book gives you hope throughout this thrilling adventure through a desolate society. If it seems unlikely that one essentially enslaved woman among millions would be able to bring about the downfall of a patriarchal society, well, dear reader…just pick this one up and thank me later.