Fall 2016: “Why Bother To Vote?” Powerful Voice Winner Norbu Sonam

Read Norbu's essay, "A Voice for the Voiceless," about how his father's treacherous escape from Tibet to America in 1949 shaped his appreciation for the rights—like voting— that Americans have today.

Norbu Sonam, a student of Keith Lewison at Cape Cod Academy in Osterville, Mass., read and responded to the YES! Magazine article, “5 Reasons to Vote Even When You Hate Everything on the Ballot.”

In this article, journalist and millennial Yessenia Funes shares her opinion on why it’s important to vote—even if you hate everything on the ballot. Funes points out what’s at stake, especially for those groups who vote the least, and options if you are dissatisfied with the slate of candidates.

Writing Prompt: Is not voting a responsible option in a presidential election? Weigh in with your argument.

NOTE: This essay was written before the Nov. 8 election. Please read Norbu’s post-election thoughts at the end of his essay.

A Vote for the Voiceless

My father escaped from Tibet after it was invaded by China in 1950. Since the invasion of Tibet, millions of Tibetans have been killed, thousands have been imprisoned, and countless monasteries have been destroyed. The physical destruction of Tibet was a great dehumanization, but the even greater contributors to the degradation of Tibetan citizens was the loss of their freedom to use voice and to practice their religion. My father, like many others, escaped from Tibet because he could not bear to keep living that way. He faced hardships none of us in the United States can imagine in order to obtain these basic rights.

My father was fifteen years old when he understood the risks of escaping Tibet. He witnessed people being publicly humiliated for raising their voices against Chinese authority, and heard gruesome stories of families who had been forced to pay for the Chinese army’s guns and bullets that were used to kill their fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters. My father faced these risks head-on and successfully crossed the Tibet-Nepal border. The harsh climate of the area was one of many risks, but more than anything, the outlying fear was being caught. If you were caught by the Chinese border patrol, you would be imprisoned and tortured for life. The possibility of death was also a tremendous danger. But death was, in fact, an easier way out because it was instant and you wouldn’t have to suffer.

My father’s journey was a success. Without a hitch, he made it across the border, through Nepal, and eventually to India, where he obtained refugee status. He was able to immigrate to the United States through his father, who had escaped Tibet when my father was only eight months old. In sharing his story, my father emphasized that his experience was nothing compared to the hardships of other Tibetans looking to regain their freedom. It was pure luck that geography was on his side. He did not have to do much traveling by foot. Others faced longer journeys, which often included hiking through torturous areas and mountainous territory. In many instances, this resulted in starvation and frostbite. Keep in mind, Tibet has an unforgiving arctic climate.

My father’s intentions were clear from the beginning: he wanted to have the same basic rights that he and every other person deserved. America was the best place for him to achieve that. To this day, he is fascinated by the rights of American citizens. My father strongly disagrees with the opinions of Rush Limbaugh, yet he cannot help but listen to him. He is enthralled by the fact that Rush Limbaugh is allowed to speak his mind as freely as he does. Limbaugh does not hold back his stance, and he is not fearful of the backlash his words may cause. The fact that Limbaugh and any other American can say what’s on their minds, is astonishing to my father. He appreciates the freedoms that I, and many other Americans, take for granted—basic rights we didn’t have to fight for during our lifetime.

Voting is one of the most integral rights that we take for granted. But for people like my father, that will never be the case because he will always remember what he went through to get that right. With respect to people like my father, and to American soldiers who fought for this right, everyone use should vote this upcoming election. Yessenia Funes says in “5 Reasons to Vote Even When You Hate Everything on the Ballot,”to “consider all the people who have an important opinion but can’t vote.” The people who “can’t vote” are not just people with busy work schedules or people with criminal records. These people include the 1.36 billion Chinese citizens under communist rule who can’t vote. Just because we, as American citizens, have this right does not mean everyone else does, and to squander the opportunity is not only disrespectful to those who do not have this right, but also to those who are fighting for the right to vote at this very moment. Your vote not only voices your opinion. It is also a voice—a shout-out— for the millions of voiceless people around the globe who would give anything, even risk their lives, to choose their leaders, to speak freely, and to feel like they matter.

 Postscript: My essay was based on the right to vote in a global sense. It was about how people fight and risk their own lives for the rights that we have and often take for granted. And considering that people around the world still have to do that, my opinion still holds that anybody who is eligible should use their vote.

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