1. Witt, Catherine L. MS, NNP-BC

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It was the year 1921 when women were first allowed to cast a vote in an election in the United States. It had been 72 years since the first Women's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York.1 During those 72 years, women fighting for the right to vote were threatened, abused, thrown in jail, and harassed. Nurses did not sit on the sidelines. Nursing leaders such as Lillian Wald, Lavinia Dock, and Mary Mahoney fought not only for the right to vote but also for care for women and children, the poor, and minorities. It was not an easy fight. Yet not even 100 years later, many of us take for granted the right to vote and to participate in our political process. Because we take it for granted, we pass on the opportunity to make our voices heard. Those women, who worked so hard for the privilege to vote, would surely be disappointed and disheartened to know how many women-and men-pass up the opportunity and responsibility to participate as citizens.

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It is 2012 and once again a presidential election year. This is obvious to anyone who has listened to television or radio for more than a few minutes over the last few months. It is impossible to escape the political messages, campaign sound bites, commercials, and arguments. It seems each cycle that these arguments and advertisements begin earlier and earlier, so that by the time Election Day arrives many are tired of the whole thing and do not like anyone who is running for office or any idea that has to be voted on. Often people feel that what they think or how they vote will make very little difference anyway. Those who do have an opinion may be less informed than they ought to be when they fill out the ballot. After all, faced with the overwhelming amount of information, it is difficult to sort out emotion, false evidence, and outright lies from facts. No wonder many people give up on the whole thing. The overwhelming problems that we face make it difficult for many to take that first step.2


Our founding fathers knew that a democracy without the participation of its citizens could not work. In accordance with the times they lived in they made the mistake of excluding women and African Americans and those too poor to read or own land. However, because of the system they created, active involvement of citizens changed those laws. If all had just given up and sat on the sidelines, that would have never happened. It was not only the work of those we read about in the history books that made this change. It was the tireless work of others behind the scenes that made the difference.


If we sit on the sidelines in the face of social injustice and refuse to do even the smallest step of venturing to the ballot box, we dishonor the memory of those who came before us to give us the right to participate. Who knows what changes the small voices of citizens will make in the future for those less able to fight for themselves? We are influencing the world for our sons and daughters, for the babies we care for, and the families that raise them, even when it seems that our one vote makes little difference. The best we can do is to become active participants in our political system. The least we can do is to become informed and cast a vote for those who are making laws. Laws determining who gets healthcare, how people are educated, what air we breathe, what water we drink, and what food we eat will make a difference for generations to come. We need to pay attention.


How can you become informed? Your professional associations have made it easy for you. The National Association of Neonatal Nurses has a tool kit that explains exactly how to be an informed voter, where to get information, and how to get involved.3 The American Nurses Association has similar information on its Web site.4 I urge you-do not sit on the sideline, take advantage of the rights that you have and vote.




1. Dumpel H. Nursing, suffrage, and social advocacy: honoring our heritage, voting our values, protecting our patients and our profession. Natl Nurse. 2010;106(7):16-22. [Context Link]


2. Loeb PR. The Soul of a Citizen: Living With Conviction in Challenging Times. New York, NY: St. Martin's; 2010. [Context Link]


3. National Association of Neonatal Nurses. Advocacy resources. Accessed June 27, 2012. [Context Link]


4. American Nurses Association. Policy and advocacy 2012. Accessed June 27, 2012. [Context Link]