Rachel Nash, MPH
November 3, 2016
I remember the silence in the room. I was sitting in my first-ever meeting of the Michigan Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), where local pediatrician Mona Hanna-Attisha, MD, MPH, FAAP, was pleading for everyone's help. She needed to convince municipal leaders that children in the nearby town of Flint, many patients of hers, were being poisoned by lead after the source of their drinking water supply was switched from Lake Huron to the polluted Flint River. Routine screenings had suddenly become crucial to proving something was seriously wrong, and she was seeking any additional data we could provide.
Flint, Michigan, has a long history of poverty, unemployment and low education levels; lead-laden water was simply the tipping point. Dr. Hanna-Attisha her colleagues recognized they needed to be the collective voice for their patients and families. Other pediatricians and AAP chapter members stood up and vowed to help as they pushed forward legislation and emergency funding at the state and federal level. I will never forget that moment, when one voice became many and a spark was ignited for the betterment of children.
Flint's story has since spread across the country and I have watched in awe as one community's plight has brought much-needed awareness to the issues affecting families elsewhere and evidence-based interventions that work. That day, I witnessed the true power of collective action and learned what advocacy truly means.
"There's a lot at stake this election. One in five children lives in poverty, one in five children lives in households where food is scarce, and seven children die from gun violence every day."
I have thought often of that day during the 2016 election season. As we race to the finish line, many are left wondering, "Why should I even care?" I can empathize with that feeling. As aspiring pediatricians and those already in practice, there are many priorities we often juggle. However, after watching the debates and following the media coverage over the past few months, I have come to realize that my vote really does matter--just as those voices mattered for Flint. Children can't vote, but pediatricians and others who care for them can. It is our civic duty to consider the issues that matter most to our patients and families in order to make an informed choice on Election Day.
As I moved beyond apathy, I began to explore why this election matters for my future patients. Luckily, the AAP's Get Out the Vote campaign website included a variety of helpful resources to keep me informed. From watching the Vote Kids video to using the social media toolkit, I began engaging with the campaign directly. But amid this rollercoaster of a campaign season, I realize that some of us may still need some convincing. Toward this end, I offer my top 10 reasons why everyone should get out and #VoteKids this Election Day:
1. Higher turnout makes our democracy more representative.
In the most recent national election, the United States had the 9th-lowest voting rate among the 35 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. People of color, lower incomes, and younger ages all turn out in lower numbers to vote. By becoming an informed voter and choosing individuals who represent our diverse nation, democracy can begin to work for everyone.
2. Young people (18-29) make up nearly 21% of the voting population.
According to the Pew Research Center, 69 million millennials are eligible to vote this year– a number rivaling the Baby Boomers. However, only 19.9 percent of 18-29-year olds cast ballots in the 2014 elections, which was the lowest youth turnout rate ever recorded in a federal election. Most medical students fall into this potentially influential age bracket, making it especially important that we vote this election.
3. It's not just the president on the ballot.
When I was in graduate school, it was drilled into my head that change happens at the local level. Attend a town hall meeting or read your city's newspaper in order to learn more about the issues and candidates in your local community.
4. The margin of victory can be important.
Even if the candidate you loathe is destined to win, you can make a dent in their margin of victory. The margin limits how much of a "mandate" they can claim once in office, encouraging them to promote more moderate policies in order to not jeopardize re-election. Conversely, even if your preferred candidate wins, adding to his or her margin of victory can help advance their agenda in office.
5. So you can complain with integrity.
Don't be that person who has strong opinions, but doesn't act on them in a meaningful way. As President Abraham Lincoln once said, "Elections belong to the people. It's their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the people and burn their behinds, then they will have to sit on their blisters."
6. The presidential candidates have an opinion and a national agenda that will impact kids.
The AAP asked both presidential candidates to answer four questions focused on child health. These questions represent important issues, such as poverty, gun violence, and affordable health insurance.
Hillary Rodham Clinton's responses can be found here.
Donald J. Trumps' responses can be found here.
7. Think of it as advocacy training.
Pediatrics is unique in its commitment to not only meet the needs of children in the clinic or hospital, but to also work systemically to change the environment that contributes to the health and well-being of all children. Through advocacy efforts at the individual, community, state and federal level, pediatricians can move from treating one patient at a time to working with a broader network of advocates. Voting for candidates who prioritize children and families is a great way to start!
8. You get a free sticker!
If you've spent a day in the pediatric clinic, you know there is nothing better than a free sticker.
9. Americans have fought and died for the right to vote.
It is important to remember that it wasn't that long ago when some populations in the United States were denied the right to vote. Women gained suffrage in 1919, meaning that many of our grandmothers were, for a time, prohibited from casting a ballot. Since the era of women's suffrage, African-Americans, Asians, Latinos and Native Americans have all faced obstacles to voting. Addtionally, accessibility issues continue to disenfranchise citizens with disabilities of every age and race.
10. #PutKids1st: Be the voice for those who can't vote.
While children cannot vote or speak up for themselves, we can. We must use our voices to make sure that their needs are prioritized by our elected leaders in state legislatures, governors' offices, Congress and the White House.
"It is our civic duty to consider the issues that matter most to our patients and families in order to make an informed choice on Election Day."
So, now that I've convinced you – what's the next step? Voting on November 8! Be sure you know your state's voter ID requirements and request time off to vote if needed!
There's a lot at stake this election. One in five children lives in poverty, one in five children lives in households where food is scarce, and seven children die from gun violence every day.
The AAP represents 66,000 voices for children. I urge you to join me in being one of them this Election Day.
"We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It's easy to say, it's not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem. Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes." ~Fred Rogers
Rachel Nash, a third-year medical student at Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine in Rochester, MI, is a member of the AAP's Section on Pediatric Trainees/Medical Student Subcommittee. Prior to medical school, Rachel completed her Master of Public Health degree at The University of Iowa with a focus on Maternal & Child Health. She also completed a year-long training in the Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental (and related) Disabilities (LEND) program. After medical school, Rachel plans to complete Pediatric Residency and pursue a career as a community pediatrician. She has a strong interest in advocacy and developmental disabilities.