Yessenia Funes' Response to "Why Bother to Vote?" Essay Winners

Yessenia Funes responds to the winners of our Fall 2016 National Student Writing Competition.
Vote When You Hate Everything on the Ballot

YES! Illustration by Eleanor Shakespeare. 

Dear Red, Catherine, Ben, Norbu, and Tyler,

Thanks for reading my story and for reacting to it. In times like these, I’m relieved to see such engaged youth—even if I don’t agree with you all.

That’s one thing this election has made clear to me: We won’t always agree, but we should always communicate. The past month has felt surreal to folks like myself aka a second-generation queer Latina feminist who cares about the planet and its inhabitants. (I imagine I give our incoming president nightmares.) Donald Trump will become our 45th president… even though he lost the popular vote. Some people use that point to highlight the fallacies with our current political system. But voter turnout hit an all-time low this election. Would the results have changed if everyone who could vote did? I think so.

I feel reassured to read that most of you see the value in voting, but I also want to reiterate that voting is only one screw in the machine we call democracy. Voting is not enough—especially now that families feel threatened by those who are supposed to be protecting us.

Which brings me to Red. Thank you for reminding folks that politicians lie. That’s partially why voters feel so unenthused. You make a point of calling out the idea that the system is rigged, but, you see, I would say that the system isn’t working properly. The Democratic National Party’s strategic plan to land Secretary Hillary Clinton the presidential nomination shows that our representatives within the system do manipulate it for their interests, not the public’s. That’s them lying and them “rigging” the system. That’s unacceptable.

Catherine, the story of your 8-year-old self was endearing. I hope to take my children to the polls one day. My parents could never take me because they can’t vote. While they’re permanent residents, residency doesn’t grant the right to vote—a reminder of why to vote. Not everyone who wants to vote can, so I thank you for highlighting that reality especially in the day of voter suppression. These sneaky tactics are alive and well in our communities. And they stem from our racist, sexist history that once suppressed voting rights, particularly from Black people.

Ben, your obvious commitment to environmental issues is inspiring. We need more Planeteers, especially now. The South is facing some of the country’s most difficult environmental battles, and dirty money in politics doesn’t help. I’m sorry you have to experience this firsthand. I will say, though, voting isn’t enough to make someone a superhero. Organizing in one’s community, petitioning, canvassing, taking the fight to the streets. These things make someone a superhero. Voting is easy. The rest of the work? That’s what’s hard. That’s what’ll save the world.

Norbu, your father’s story is incredible. Thank you for sharing it with me. My parents also fled a country under turmoil, so I know a bit about your world as a second-generation American. Growing up with that global lens and understanding the privileges we have in the United States shapes a person in a way that outsiders can’t understand. Voting feels like a responsibility for me, as I imagine it would for you. Your parents expect you to take full advantage of what they couldn’t have growing up. Too many U.S. voters forget that, despite this country’s imperfections, the United States is still a special place to be. It’s where many foreigners want to be.

Tyler, you’re the only one to disagree with me. I respect that. More youth need to challenge conventional thinking. However, this election wasn’t the one to do that. I woke up the morning of November 9, and the group I felt most angry with was the non-voters. You say that a Clinton and Trump president are one in the same. I dare say that undocumented immigrants, Muslims and LGBTQ people would disagree. Clinton didn’t propose a Muslim registry or the deportation of millions of immigrants. While you might not see the direct connections between our president and a family’s day-to-day life, they exist. The president doesn’t literally put food on the kitchen table, but the president does influence how much of the federal budget goes toward SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—food stamps program). I didn’t believe in voting when I was in high school, but then I realized that voting is one piece of the greater puzzle to changing the world.

So I remind each and every one of you: You hold the power to change the world. Voting alone won’t change a thing, so I ask you to find more ways to contribute. We all have a purpose, a gift. I know you all will use yours—be it your writing, radical thought or advocacy—to further the fight for justice.

Peace and amor,




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