Photo Credit: Associated Press
By David Page, WWA Advocacy Director
This piece was originally published in our Fall 2020 Trail Break edition, which you can read in its entirety here.
Unless you’re luckier than the rest of us and have been living out of your backpack in the deepest depths of the Brooks Range or the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness for the last couple of years, you’re likely to have an inkling that there’s an important election coming up this November. As a 501c3 organization, we won’t tell you who to vote for or against. What we will do, however, is remind you that your vote is the single most important tool you have as an American citizen to influence how—or if—the places and activities you love are managed and protected for present and future generations.
We’re not just talking about who gets to sit behind the desk in the Oval Office. But let’s start with that one: as we’ve learned over our country’s history, whoever we elect to sit in that seat is not just someone who has the opportunity to say a unifying word to the American public after a difficult day, or a figurehead who shows up on aircraft carriers to give the thumbs-up to the troops. In fact, that person has enormous discretion over which laws to enforce and which to ignore or simply render meaningless. That person can appoint Federal judges who either protect the public and defend democracy, or who use their position to defend special interests. That person gets to choose the people who run our nation’s public land management, public health, and environmental protection agencies—the Forest Service, the Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Center for Disease Control, Health and Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency, and all the other federal agencies and departments that are charged with leveraging our taxpayer dollars to make our everyday lives better, safer, more inclusive, and more sustainable. Do we want those people to be qualified? Do we want those people to have the public’s best interests in mind? Or are we cool with corporate shills, industry lobbyists, or just plain empty chairs?
And then there’s Congress. When it works, it can get checks in the mail to help keep us over our skis when the economy launches off a cliff. It can protect vast landscapes, fix multi-billionaire-dollar infrastructure issues, mitigate climate impacts, fund agencies and programs, and put us on a path to economic and environmental resilience and sustainability. It can hold the Executive Branch accountable to the people, and make social justice a reality. When it doesn’t work, as it often doesn’t, woe is us. But what do we have to do with it? How do we make it work? For starters, we buckle up, switch on our beacons, and vote for as many smart, functional, practical people as we can find on that ballot to truly do the hard work of representing all of us.
Finally, let’s not forget about our elected representatives at the state and county level, and on city councils, local school boards, tax boards, and district courts. These people make all sorts of decisions that impact how your day goes and what the future of your community might look like. The only way to make all these people work for you is if you—that is, all of us—make your voice heard loud and clear right from the beginning. There’ll be plenty more to do after voting, but let’s at least start there. As the late Congressman John Lewis, who not that long ago got his skull broken for the right to vote, once said, “If you don’t do everything you can to change things, then they will remain the same.”
For every three people who took the time to vote in 2016, another two people either faced obstacles that prevented them from voting, or decided it just wasn’t worth their time. Let’s not let that happen again. Let’s not sit this one out! If you think you might have something better to do on November 3 this year, like skiing four inches of blower pow on granite or maintaining social distancing and avoiding polling places, make sure you contact your county registrar and line yourself up with a mail-in ballot, fill it out, and get it in! Then go trash your skis, knowing that you did your part to keep your country off the rocks.