We Cannot be Bystanders - We Must Vote!

November 02, 2016

By Fanta Aw

On October 31 at 3:56 p.m., I reported to the designated voting center to cast my early vote. Given what is at stake during this election for both my adopted country the United States, and for the world, I was not about to take any chances and miss my opportunity to exercise my right to vote. As I entered the civic center this beautiful Monday, I found close to a hundred people in the polling area poised to cast their vote. It brought a smile to my face, warmed my heart, and sustained my hope for this country.

Looking at the faces around me, I believed that many of these other voters, like myself, understood that much is at stake in this election, and that we cannot afford to be silent or sit on the sidelines. We were not going to be bystanders. I was especially hopeful when several people ahead of me were identified as first-time voters. They reminded me so much of myself when I cast my important first vote in 2008. It was a historic vote for our first African-American president. Once again, I was about to cast another historic vote, a vote that would ensure that this nation stands for what is right, and a vote that would ensure our collective future is not jeopardized.

Find U.S. election resources at www.connectingourworld.org/elections.

For the past year, the world has witnessed a new low in American politics with acts of misogyny, islamophobia, anti-immigrant rhetoric, bigotry, and the vilification of the urban poor. In my international trips, I have been asked repeatedly by friends and colleagues the same question, “What is happening in America and to America?” My response has been to say, “The politics of fear, and the arrogance of wealth and narcissism.” As someone who has lived for over three decades in the United States, and as an American, I have seen how the danger of a single story repeated a million times can erode community and instill fear. Yesterday renewed my faith in an America that believes that the work of democracy requires standing up and speaking out every day, and that we the people have agency and must not take it for granted. Our vote can and must count.

In the civic center where I voted, there was a mosaic of the America I know and have come to love—people of various races/ethnicities, religious beliefs, abilities, socio-economic backgrounds, and age groups. We were there because we wanted to ensure that basic democratic principles are operating.

The process of voting was efficient. It took only 10 minutes to exercise the most important of civic duties. On November 8, let us as international educators and citizens of the United States remember what elections are about. Let us be sure to head to the polls and cast our important vote, and in doing so, secure our collective future and ensure that the United States remains a part of the world, not apart from it. Let's make history not for history’s sake, but because we know and believe it is what is right.

In this election, and in all that follow, there can be no bystanders. Exercise your right to vote! A right that we must never take for granted. I remain very hopeful!


Fanta Aw, PhD, is the president and chair of NAFSA’s Board of Directors. At American University, she is the assistant vice president of campus life and the Hurst Senior Professorial Lecturer at the School of International Service.


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