Why Public Safety Personnel Should Vote

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series. Click here for the previous article.

Gordon Graham here and this is the final writing in what has been almost six years of monthly articles focusing on the 10 Families of Risk. For those of you who have been following these writings since inception, I sincerely thank you. For those of you newer to these articles, you can access the entire series here.

My last article introduced you to Family 10 of the 10 Families of Risk—political risks. And I left you with a question: “What can you do in your key role as a citizen of this great nation to influence our collective future in a positive way?” The obvious answer is, VOTE. But just blindly voting without knowledge of issues or candidates is irresponsible. Please vote responsibly—that requires some action and thought prior to filling out a ballot.

Why should public safety personnel vote? Let’s start by understanding how fortunate you are to be able to vote! In my mind voting is a right, a privilege and a responsibility. Yet when you look at the percentage of eligible voters who actually vote, it’s clear not everyone thinks that way. I am shocked to read that oftentimes less than half of eligible voters cast a ballot. Please get away from thinking my vote won’t count. Countless elections at all levels of government have been decided by just a few votes. Wikipedia has a page devoted to close election results; NPR provides a short list here.

Please do whatever you can do to make the next generation stronger and smarter.

To vote properly, public safety personnel must educate yourself regarding what is going on—and that requires reading and learning about the involved issues or involved candidates. As I have mentioned in past articles, I try to talk to anyone and everyone because I benefit by meeting and engaging people. However, over the last few decades, I have noticed a lot of people who I converse with are lacking in basic knowledge. Thirty years ago, I read a book by Professor E.D. Hirsch, Cultural Literacy. Here is the Amazon summary of what this book is about:

In this forceful manifesto Professor E. D. Hirsch Jr. argues that children in the United States are being deprived of the basic knowledge that would enable them to function in contemporary society. They lack cultural literacy: a grasp of background information that writers and speakers assume their audience already has. Even if a student has a basic competence in the English language, he or she has little chance of entering the American mainstream without knowing what a silicon chip is, or when the Civil War was fought. An important work that has engendered a nationwide debate on our educational standards, Cultural Literacy is a required reading for anyone concerned with our future as a literate nation.

This book was written in 1988. If Mr. Hirsch had concerns then, I wonder what he would think now? I have read dozens of stories about how far behind students in the U.S. are in reading and mathematics skills, with one recent piece saying that your “average” ninth grader is reading at a second-grade level. How are we going to compete on an international level in the future if the next generation cannot read or compute?

Another example: a piece in the Wall Street Journal (I try to read that paper every day, and every day there is some story of value to public safety personnel) entitled “Now, Go Where No Man Has Gone Before” by Buzz Aldrin. While I enjoyed reading this piece, I was a bit surprised to find at the end of the article the statement, “Mr. Aldrin is a former astronaut.” How could someone not know the names Neil Armstrong, Mike Collins and Buzz Aldrin and their role in the first lunar landing 54 years ago?

If you are not voting, you really have no right to complain about the actions of those who were elected.

I am confident all the readers of this article know who Buzz Aldrin is, but apparently not everyone does. The same paper on the same day had a story about Bill Clinton being released from the hospital in Orange County, Calif. That article finished up with, “Mr. Clinton, a Democrat, served as President from 1993 to 2001.” I am so happy they did not add in “President of the United States”—or maybe they forgot!

This is a stretch in my brain, but if you don’t know who Bill Clinton or Buzz Aldrin are, my guess is you don’t really know much if anything about people running for office at the local, state or federal level. What does this candidate stand for? What is their background? What have they done in the past? Who supports this candidate and who does not?

A pet peeve of mine is the “litmus test” some public safety personnel give candidates. “Well, I agree with them on everything they want to do EXCEPT on this one issue so therefore I will not vote for them.” In my mind that is very myopic thinking.

Over the years I have met so many people who are upset with politicians and what they are doing. When I ask them whether they voted in the involved election, the answer is often no. If you are not voting, you really have no right to complain about the actions of those who were elected. I feel the same way about “issues” people vote on. So many people don’t read or fully understand what the ballot initiative is and are swayed by cleverly done advertisements on television or the internet.

I am running out of words for this article, but Family 10—political risks—was where I started. And in my opinion the biggest risk political risk for public safety personnel is not voting—or voting without understanding the candidates and/or issues involved. And lest you think this is just some rant unrelated to public safety, consider how much new legislation has been passed in the last five years—not to mention proposed legislation—that affects what you and your personnel do every day. Regardless of where you stand on the issues, it’s impossible to deny that elections—and votes—matter.

Going back to a statement in my last writing, “Politicians worry about the next election. Statesmen worry about the next generation.” Please do whatever you can do to make the next generation stronger and smarter. Whether it is your role as a parent, a cop/firefighter/paramedic/corrections officer, a teacher, a friend, a mentor, or in any other capacity you can think of—we must prepare for the future.

Gordon Graham

GORDON GRAHAM is a 33-year veteran of law enforcement and the co-founder of Lexipol, where he serves on the current board of directors. Graham is a risk management expert and a practicing attorney who has presented a commonsense risk management approach to hundreds of thousands of public safety professionals around the world. Graham holds a master’s degree in Safety and Systems Management from University of Southern California and a Juris Doctorate from Western State University.

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