My mother was born and raised in Wyoming, the first state in the nation to give women the right to vote. She voted her entire life. My grandmother cast her first vote in the 1924 presidential election there. My great-grandmother never had a choice.
I cast my first ‘practice’ vote when I was in kindergarten after learning about Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. When I turned 18, I stepped into the ballot box and made my choice. It was something I looked forward to.
Women have only been voting in this country for 89 years. That’s 147 years less than white American males. American women fought for the right to vote for over 72 years, from the first meeting at Seneca Falls in 1848, to the addition of the 19th Amendment in 1920. I truly appreciate what those women did for me. I exercise that right in, well, almost every election; with technology and early ballots, voting is easier than ever.
But there is problem with voting. Lack of civility in politics is killing our once held passion for electing our own leaders. Arizonans and Americans are becoming frustrated with political campaigns that rage, lie, twist facts and confuse voters. Confused voters start to tune out. Tuned-out people become non-voters. And this is a tragedy. Can America, can Arizona afford apathy towards our local, state and presidential elections? To continue to be a free people, we cannot.
In Arizona, we are lucky to have one pioneering woman who wants to change Arizona politics and stop the decline of passionate voters. Her name is Sandra Day O’Connor. Yes, that Sandra Day O’Connor, former U.S. Supreme Court Justice and Arizona senator. O’Connor is no stranger to the pioneering ‘can do spirit’ that built this country.
O’Connor has started a new non-profit group called “Speak Out Arizona” which works with local organizations and businesses in order to promote voter registration and civility in politics regardless of party affiliation. That means bringing respect and consideration for others back to politics. “Speak Out Arizona” is a non-partisan, volunteer organization that works to engage and encourage the ‘civil’ discussion of ideas, problems, and politics ‘O’Connor Style’.
‘O’Connor Style’ comes from O’Connor’s tradition of inviting rival senators back to her adobe home on the Salt River in Arizona for dinner to work out issues. O’Connor became renowned for her ability to bring people together on both sides of the aisle by helping them to relax with good food, a cold beer and a relaxing environment.
Speak Out Arizona seeks to continue this tradition. The group has already organized volunteer groups throughout the state. One of the most active and dedicated volunteer chapters happens to come from areas around Pinal County, including parts of Queen Creek, San Tan Valley, Florence and Eloy.
“Voters are fed up with political tyranny. Pinal County is a county that ‘gets it’. The public is sick of political negativity, party politics and general lack of respect and leadership exhibited by our leaders. In addition, third party candidates and debates should be welcomed, not smothered and shut out. This is an attempt to control the American people by limiting choices at the polls,” stated a member of the Pinal County group.
According to Speak Out Arizona, 52 percent of registered voters won’t even bother to cast a ballot in the upcoming elections on Nov. 6. In Arizona, we are ranked 40th out of 50 states in voter registration. Worldwide, America is ranked as 139th out of 172 in voter participation.
Speak Out Arizona means to change those statistics. The group’s goal is to educate and engage all citizens, get more voters registered, and encourage civil discussion of ideas and issues. For Arizona, O’Connor wants to move the state from the bottom 10 percent to top 10 percent for voter registration and turnout by the 2016 presidential election.
On Nov. 19, Speak Out Arizona will host a dinner with Sandra Day O’Connor and volunteers from around the state will be recognized for their service. The dinner will take place at the restored O’Connor House in Tempe. The same house where the O’Connor tradition started so many years ago. Volunteers at the dinner will include students, civic leaders, communicators and nonprofits.
While the group’s plans include changing political rhetoric into something positive, and rekindling Arizona’s and perhaps America’s passion for clean, civil campaigns and debates, perhaps the most important is reaching people who have been absent from the polls. The less people vote, the easier it is to take away freedoms, freedoms that were fought for, freedoms that people have died for.
I may not be a pioneer like my mother, grandmother, Susan B. Anthony or Sandra Day O’Connor. But I respect and appreciate what they have done for me and future generations. If this column encourages just one person to vote, then we are all a step closer to preserving the freedoms and the idea of “For the People, By The People and Of the People.”
Imagine what would happen if the ‘O’Connor Style’ of working problems out became the expected norm in politics? Now wouldn’t that be something!
• Bridgette Crosby is a writer who lives in and loves the Queen Creek/San Tan Valley area. Reach her at email@example.com.