One of my earliest memories, I was 3 maybe 4, is that of my parents taking me with them to vote.

The location was an old schoolhouse in the community of Bugtussle, Oklahoma. My dad showed me the stamp he used to mark his ballot, a rooster.

Only in recent years have I learned some of the origins of the rooster stamp.

There were migrants from the Old South, probably from Bugtussle, Alabama, who had come to Oklahoma just before statehood time (1907) for the coal mining opportunities. They likely brought their favored voting symbol, the rooster.

Bugtussle still references its most notable resident, Carl Albert. That same schoolhouse where I first saw voting was where Albert attended school. And, evidently, his imagination was stirred by the people who used the rooster, for he went into politics.

He became a congressman, representing Oklahoma’s Third Congressional District. Eventually, he served as the speaker of the U.S. House for several years.

My family, and most of the families in that congressional district, knew Albert. His district office manager accompanied my dad and me on a college visit to introduce us to the president and to tour the campus.

We were not the only ones in that district that felt the personal touch and relevance of Albert’s way of doing politics, of working with the district’s constituencies toward economic stability for the area, being relevant to and with the people.

His personal perspective on politics was that he “very much disliked doctrinaire liberals – they want to own your minds. And I don’t like reactionary conservatives. I like to face issues in terms of conditions and not in terms of someone’s inborn political philosophy.”

When Albert retired, a New York Times editorial described him as “a conciliator and seeker of consensus, a patient persuader … trusted for his fairness and integrity.” In short, Carl Albert began and remained relevant to his constituency. His character informed his policies and his politics.

I wonder how many Americans will not vote during this election season we’re into because there is nothing relevant there for them.

Nothing stirs their imaginations enough to warrant casting their votes. Maybe anger and fatigue are the forces that constrain them from voting.

Lots of people have every right to reflect those attitudes in light of the kinds of voter suppression tactics that have been directly and covertly directed at them.

Their need to keep a family maintained or to have adequate shelter does not allow time to be educated about the candidates or issues afoot. They have come to believe that a single vote doesn’t really make a difference, except maybe in small, local elections.

The accountability shifts to those of us who have been convinced maybe since we were 3 or 4 (!) that voting is important.

Indeed, only in retrospect do I realize the informing and forming impact that stamp has had on my own imagination toward recognizing integrity or not in candidates. Of being sensitive to social contexts and issues that are making a heavy impact on other groups of which I’m not a part.

The accountability is that of being persuaders, enablers and educators for these who are at this point undecided or have not activated the intent to vote.

I’ve decided that articulating phrases like “voting is a privilege” or “vote to maintain our democracy” are too abstract for many people to engage. People need different points of relevance brought to their attention.

Certainly, the pandemic has demonstrated the fragility of the economic system, healthcare system and just about every system and institution we have in our society.

What if we could help people “imagine” what their voting stamp or symbol would be if they could use such to address these particular areas of concern for them?

It takes some imagination, but …

  • If healthcare is their need and issue, then a stamp that reflects the staff of Asclepius, the rod with two serpents wrapped around it topped by wings.
  • If justice issues are the connection for someone to vote, the scale of justice or maybe the statue of blind justice.
  • A dollar sign gets to the heart of matters people want and need addressed relevant to them.
  • Lots of long-term issues of impact, like climate change, lead to a variety of stamps that can be imagined.

So many possibilities can be imagined and held in voters’ minds’ eyes as they fill out their mail-in ballot or make their way to vote in person.

What would yours be? What are those of people you know, to whom you are related, of those with whom you are in the same social group?

Here is a myriad of conversation starters that don’t have to involve incivility and are relevant to us all.

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