black and white photo of six suffragettes holding signs that say Vote

This article was first published in Maria Shriver’s Sunday Paper


Every time I vote, as I hope we all did last Tuesday, I get a little misty-eyed. For most of history, most people haven’t had voting rights. Feudal systems, slavery, dictatorships, colonialism—so many structures suppressed so many people for so long. When my father was born, American women still didn’t have this basic right. I’m so grateful to everyone who has fought to let my voice be heard.

That said, I sometimes fret that my one little vote may be too little, too late, to change the world in any significant way. Even if my candidates win, will they keep their promises? Will they be overwhelmed by the opposition? And what can I do in the months and years before another election rolls around?

Then I remember. Here’s what I can do: I can keep voting.

The word “vote” comes from the Latin vovere, originally meaning “to vow,” and later, “to make a choice.” As a nation, we can only hold elections every few years. But as individuals, we can make choices and vow to keep them every day, many times a day. If we do that thoughtfully and deliberately, it can add up to a lot of change.

Here are some everyday ways to vote for a better life and a better society:

  • We can vote with everything we read and write here, on the internet. When we see things online that upset us, we may be tempted to choose verbal violence, mockery, bullying, and groupthink. But we can make a different choice, and vow to keep it. We can calm ourselves, listen thoughtfully, and voice our opinions with respect. We can lead our lives the way we want people in power to lead society.
  • We can vote with our money. Even if we have very little, we can spend it in ways that help create the world we want. For some of us that may mean buying locally grown food or USA-made products. Others may invest in companies that match our ethics, or donate to causes that align with our beliefs. Money shapes society, so don’t spend yours randomly. Use your vote.
  • We can vote with the way we treat ourselves and others. If we want liberty and justice for all but accept being mistreated, we’re casting a vote for oppression. If we use fear or manipulation to gain power over others—our children, our spouses, our coworkers—that’s a vote to keep corruption in the governing of our own lives.
  • We can vote with our time. Do we force ourselves to work long hours when we need rest? Then we’re voting to oppress a worker. Do we stifle our dreams of traveling, writing, starting our own business? That’s a vote to maintain the status quo instead of investing in brilliant ideas. Let your choices support your heart’s desires, and watch how that changes society.
  • If we’re really serious about bettering the world, we can vote with our very thoughts, vowing to find our way to clarity and integrity no matter what situation we may face. We can choose to acknowledge what we don’t know and stay open to new information. Or we can choose to wallow in self-justification, cruel judgments of ourselves and others, and unexamined prejudice. We vote whenever we choose to believe a thought, and human thought changes the world before any action occurs.

We all want our political leaders to be upstanding, ethical, fair, brave, and honest. Since we’re all the leaders of our own lives, let’s vow to embody those same virtues. We can choose whatever matches our deepest integrity in a million small ways, every day. So please, whenever you get the chance, go into that booth and cast your ballot. But every year, every day, every minute, keep voting for what you believe.