EDITORIAL NOTE: This guest blog post was written by Sarah Schimmer, League of Women Voters of Houston
I'm a mother of two small children, Madeleine is 4 years old, and Henry is 20 months old, and my husband, Jason, and I have been taking our two children to the polls with us since they were born. Not only have we voted together, but I've taken Madeleine with me to attend government meetings, hearings, state legislative sessions and city council sessions. Henry is still a bit too small to sit quietly for long periods of time, but he is with me when we visit the polls and even presses the red "Submit" button in the voting booth for me after I've made my selections. My husband and I are both professionals fortunate to be employed full time, and we take time off from work to take our children with us to participate in government processes we feel compelled to attend if they are scheduled during the business day or work week.
While my children are too small to understand the issues on the ballot or being discussed in the government meetings we attend, I am teaching them everyday lessons they can carry with them.
1. Even if you don't have an opportunity to speak, it's important to show up.
My family lives in the greater Houston metro area, which is two hours away from Austin, our state capitol. Some cities in Texas are eight hours, 15 hours and longer away from the state capitol. I know that some women would love to be at the capitol to sit in the gallery to show their dissent or support, to meet with their representatives, to speak if there is an opportunity. But sometimes transportation, distance, cost or other reasons may keep women away. I bring my daughter, Madeleine, with me to help her understand that if we can be there, we should because we can be a voice for others.
2. We must wait patiently in line for our turn to sit in the gallery.
When an important issue is being discussed in the state legislature or city council, sometimes there are a lot of people that want to be in the room to hear the discussion or speak to share their opinion. We don't always get in the room on our first try. We either have to wait in line or sit in an overflow room. Sometimes the lines are long, your legs hurt, you need a drink or need to use the restroom. But when we get to sit in the gallery even for a few minutes, we get to participate in the process and it’s worth the wait.
3. There are lots of different voices, and it is important to listen.
We've visited the Texas State Capitol, and we looked at and talked about the pictures of the past Governors of Texas around the capitol rotunda. We've seen Ann Richards' portrait and George Bush's portrait, and I've told her that people have different opinions and ways of thinking, and there are lots of voices. It is important to listen to everyone, hear what they have to say and then make the best decision with the information we have. Sometimes people have a different way of getting to a solution, and it is good to listen and learn from as many people as you can in order to understand their thoughts.
4. People have made sacrifices so we can be here.
In our Texas State Capitol, we've seen the portrait of Davy Crockett, who gave his life at the Alamo for Texas Independence. We've seen the statue of Stephen F. Austin, who established the first colony in Texas. We've seen the statue of the pioneer woman, which represents the spirit of all the women that aided in making Texas what it is today. Many people along the way made sacrifices in their quality of life because they knew they were building a better way of life to improve the lives for many Texans yet to come. I am teaching my kids to honor past sacrifices by participating in the process and being knowledgeable citizens.
5. When there is an opportunity to speak share your thoughts and opinions in a respectful way.
Sometimes we've attended state or city sessions to listen in. Other times, Madeleine has been with me to speak on an issue. I want to show her – both in words and actions – that participating in the government process doesn't just mean voting, but it also sometimes means meeting and speaking with elected representatives, asking questions or sharing a written or spoken comment. The process determines the outcome, and participating is the best way to influence the process. She has seen that there are people that might disagree with me, but that we need to sit quietly and listen to what they have to say because we would like for them to offer us the same courtesy. We may not always agree, but we can still be neighbors and friends.
6. Voting in a primary election, a school board election, a Municipal Utility District election, is just as important for casting your vote for the Governor of your state or the President of the United States.
Anyone listed on a ballot asking for your vote can impact your quality of life. It is important to read about the candidates and prepare before you go to the polls. I talk to my children about the vote I'm going to cast and why because I want them to know I've researched and read about the people asking for my vote. We always look for our nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Houston guide because it presents all candidates' responses to questions as they were received and has been a trusted source in the Houston community for 94 years since 1920.
I'm proud to be a Texas woman, grateful I have the opportunity to share these experiences with my children, and thankful for a loving and supportive husband that I work with to raise children learning how to be thoughtful productive citizens.