The Right to Vote and Imagining Life Without It

Written by Alexander Huang.

I believe the right to vote is the single most important right a person can have, and I learned this through the eyes of someone who never had it – my Grandma. My Grandma was a farmer who grew up in a poverty-stricken village in southern China and the ‘right to vote’ was a concept that was not only foreign to her, but vastly inconceivable. I learned just how important this right was through the many stories my grandma would tell me throughout my life.

It is Saturday morning and I am on my way to see my Grandma like I do every few weeks. As always, I am easily excited just thinking about what story my grandma will tell me this time. As a matter of fact, as I look back, she always seemed to know the right story to share with me at just the right time at each stage of my life. I want to share a few lessons of her life in hopes that it will not only open your eyes to how important and powerful your right to vote is, but also encourage people to go out there and fully take advantage of this right.

Lesson #1 - There is great power to be able to choose your passions in life, the leaders that govern you, and all the other decisions that affect your life. In America, they call this a ‘right’; my grandma would actually consider this a privilege.

A common sight, I see my grandma on the couch sewing some piece of garment and I immediately plop down next to her. She loves it when someone accompanies her while she is sewing and, lucky for me, I know all too well that she tells the best stories when she is in the zone sewing away. On this particular day, she decided to tell me about what life was like growing up as a farmer, in poverty, and without a voice. She would wake up well before dawn, long before any of her five children woke up (all of whom she basically raised by herself), to quickly make food for them and then rushed out the door to what would be a grueling 15 hour day. She would hike 30 miles up the mountain to get water and then spend the rest of the day tending the farm in sweltering heat; she did this seven days a week. WOW! was the first thought that came to just blew my mind that she had to endure all that just to get water when I could just walk to my kitchen and turn on the faucet. My grandma is amazing I said to myself...she is superwoman. Anyways let me get back to the story...In her village, everyone was a farmer, just like all the generations before them. Dreams of being a doctor or a teacher or a lawyer or anything other than a farmer stayed as such, dreams. Simply put, a farmer usually stayed a farmer. To make matters worse, she had to give most of her crops to the government, usually only barely enough leftover to feed her family. She paused for a moment as that last point appeared to hit a nerve with her. I could see it in her eyes that she was deep in thought, recollecting a specific moment in time. She then looked at me and said, “San, my chinese name with which she called me by, times were so tough back then and I could barely feed my own children. There was nothing to eat and the worst part was that there was nothing I could do. It would pain me each time I saw my kids licking their bowls clean knowing that it will be quite a while before they could eat again.” This story made me realize how lucky I was to have all that I have, and to be able to sit in the driver seat and pave my own future. Certainly something that I, subconsciously, took for granted.

How scary would it be if you had no control over your future or career ambitions? Can you imagine being stuck in poverty with no way out?

Lesson #2 - Being a leader is a great privilege and honor. But don’t just follow someone blindly. Challenge their motives, their agenda, and their policies. Make sure he/she deserves your vote.

It’s Chinese New Year and, of course, my grandma is up early preparing traditional pastries and buns as is customary on this day. I know she is up early because I can hear her singing and humming along to a song. This song is a very familiar song to me because I’ve heard her sing along to it for as long as I could remember. It is a catchy song so I would always ask my grandma to sing it for me when I was younger. However, when I heard her sing this time, it was a different experience. I was much older and, for the first time, I started paying attention to the lyrics of the song. I quickly realized just how much propaganda was in the lyrics. The song depicts Mao Zedong, a communist revolutionary and founding father of the People’s Republic of China, as a sun, a powerful symbol in China, and savior of China. I decided to ask my grandma why she sang that song all the time while delighting myself with one of the buns she had made, of course. My grandma told me that she, along with all the farmers in the village, would sing this song throughout the day while tending the farms, believing that Mao would bring great prosperity to the village in the form of more rain and abundant crops. I asked her if it did bring “Great” prosperity? “I’m not sure. Never really thought about it, but I guess sometimes it did and sometimes it didn’t”, she responded. She said the song gave them hope and there were many times where she needed this hope to get through the day. She later told me that the entire village, seemingly brainwashed, would yield to whatever rules and regulations brought upon them by Mao’s government without knowing how it would impact them, whether it would improve their living conditions or not (it did not). I asked her, naively, why she didn’t speak up and why no one in the village questioned the rules brought upon them. She smiled and said, “I never thought about it at the time. Mao was our savior and going against his word just didn’t seem to make sense at the time. I was also a woman. All I could think about was raising my family and tending the farms.” She brought out a fresh new batch of buns and asked if she did a good job on them. I knew it was rhetorical question because I was already on my fourth one. Later on in the day, I thought more about what she told me and it saddened me as I realized that my grandma endured decades of poverty and poor living conditions that she, unfortunately, blindly agreed to. It angered me that Mao and his government provided no assistance to her and her village, the same Mao that they praised every single day.  No financial assistance, no healthcare aid, no opportunity to obtain an education – just a few things we take for granted here in the United States.

How would you feel if the leader that you (blindly) praised every day did nothing to improve your life or future, let alone make it worse? This is an extreme example, but the consequences are real and my grandma lived through them.

For me, learning about my grandma’s life was eye opening. I gained a much greater appreciation of all that I have in my life and, probably more importantly, realized how one’s life could be greatly affected by the decisions made by those in power. All this inspired me to be more proactive and more civically engaged. I truly believe the right to vote is the most powerful right we have as citizens in the United States. I urge those who doubt their vote can make a difference to take a look at my grandma’s story. Yes it CAN make a difference. The decisions made DO affect us. We live in a democracy where we have a say in how our lives are shaped and can elect the leaders with our best interest in mind. With the 2016 presidential primaries underway, it is as important a time as any to make sure we go out and vote. So, what are you waiting for?

   My Grandma keeping to her roots at 80 years old!

My Grandma keeping to her roots at 80 years old!