DEAR HARRIETTE: I have a friend who goes on and on and on about political topics until I could throw up. Nothing is off-limits. And he has seriously strong views about every single thing. At first I thought this was humorous -- until it got to be too much. The icing on the cake for me, though, was when I asked him if he was so riled up why didn't he just vote for the candidate who shared his views, and he balked and said he doesn't vote. He's not even registered to vote! He thinks that's a waste of time and that his vote won't count. I was infuriated. This is a black guy who grew up in the South even though he lives up North now. He knows that his people fought for the right to vote. And now all he can do is whine about things? I want to strangle him. What can I do instead? -- Waking Him Up, Syracuse, New York
DEAR WAKING HIM UP: Before walking away from these heated discussions with your friend, sit him down and ask him to take a trip down memory lane. What does he remember of old family stories about equal rights? If his family grew up in the segregated South, there is a very good chance that they talked about the visceral negative effects of discrimination. Ask him to recall some of those stories. If you have any stories from your own family, do the same. Talk about what it was like before the Voting Rights Act of 1965, or before segregation was made illegal. Talk to him about how equal rights began to be offered to people outside the white community and how that happened. In all cases in this country, rights were secured through protest and ultimately through a vote among the American people.
While it is true that democracy is not as simple as one vote, each vote does count. All you can do is remind him of his own family history and how important it was that people stood up for what they thought was right and made their voice heard through a ballot. A voice without power is just a loud voice.