March 20, 2024

Living Up to the Promise: Why I Vote

American Flag with Ballot Enclosed Envelope

Living Up to the Promise: Why I Vote

By Jeana Whitaker
Jeana Whitaker

When I witnessed, live on television and in real-time, an armed mob storming the capitol building, attacking police officers and intent on overthrowing the government at the urging of a failed reality-tv personality that currently occupied the office of the President; I knew America would never be the same.  It was time to leave this country behind and seek the life I had long dreamed of as an expatriate writer living in Europe.  Like so many other Americans who have moved to Portugal, I wanted to escape the political turmoil that exists in the U.S. right now.  So, I did what so many others have done; I sold everything I owned and moved to Portugal with two suitcases and the dog. It was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing I'd be living in one of the safest countries in the world. No more living in constant fear of mass shootings or worrying about encountering crazy MAGA fanatics at the grocery store. 

Ever since I declared to my middle-school history teacher that I would be the first woman President in defiance of his claim that girls aren’t smart enough to be in politics, I’ve felt that voting was a tremendous responsibility, and I took it very seriously.  Although I never ran for office, I always understood the significance of local elections and, as a teacher, realized how important it was to research funding issues and other laws that were on the ballot. 

But as I’d witnessed a rise in violence on the streets and watched people’s lives endangered because Republican representatives lied about voting improprieties in my home state of Arizona, I felt hopeless.  I thought to myself that the idiots could go ahead and burn this country to the ground because I would not be there to be a part of it.  I was getting out and not turning back. 

About a year later, I was given the opportunity to write an article for Democracy Day, a collaborative media event that educates and informs people around the world about Democracy in action.   I was writing an article about Americans living overseas and had the chance to speak with Martha McDevitt-Pugh, the International Chair of Democrats Abroad.  Through our conversations, she reminded me that although I choose not to live in the U.S., it is still crucial that I participate in the democratic process and vote.  She gave me a lot to think about, and I realized that no matter how angry or scared I may feel about America, I simply cannot turn my back on her and run away.  Now, more than ever, she needs me, and I am going to follow through.

First off, the outcome of the upcoming election isn't just about politics for me; it's personal. It's about the friends and family I left back in the States. Their lives will be directly impacted by the election results, and I can't just sit back and watch from the sidelines. If someone breaks into my house to hurt my family, I’m going to do everything in my power to protect them.  Right now, that means voting. 

Also, as a U.S. citizen, I'm still affected by the laws and policies enacted by our government. Even from afar, tax laws continue to shape my financial landscape. I’m not rich by any stretch of the imagination.  I was a high school teacher for over 25 years, so I’m certainly not the person who will be helped by new tax laws that help the rich get richer.  Also, I worked hard my entire life and contributed to the Social Security system that Trump wants to dismantle.  Yes, it is an entitlement, and I am entitled to it because I paid for it!  Cutting Social Security would be like the federal government raiding my personal savings account, and I am not going to allow Trump to use my hard-earned money to pay for his tremendous legal debts. 

Moreover, America's role as a global leader weighs heavily on my mind. Its actions, whether supporting freedom fighters in Ukraine or collaborating with other nations on climate initiatives, have far-reaching implications. We are still paying the price for Trump’s crazy policies from the first term.  For example, if you have been living in Europe for a while you may have noticed that the cost to ship something to another country has gone up exponentially.  That is the direct result of Donald Trump raising import tariffs on the Chinese in 2018.  That prompted the Chinese to react with its own tariff increases and that caused the EU to raise them as well.  That means that if you want to ship something outside of Portugal, it costs you a lot more today than it did in 2018, thanks to Trump's economic policies.  He is currently floating the idea of raising tariffs another 60% if he is elected again, and I guarantee that will affect your pocketbook no matter where you live. 

In addition, if there is one thing you can count on with Donald Trump, it’s that he will follow through on his promise to become a dictator on day one. And that will be the beginning of the end—not just for America but for democratic governments around the globe. What do you think will happen when Trump, Putin, and Kim Jong Un band together, or maybe “push buttons” instead? This is the stuff nightmares are made of. 

Furthermore, we all know that it’s not just Trump but the Christian fundamentalists who are threatening democracy in America.  It’s stacking the courts with people who think it is okay to strip women of their rights and block students from reading books or learning history.  The best way to control people is to keep them uneducated, so Republicans have been trying to systematically destroy the American educational system through Charter Schools, School Voucher programs, reducing funding, introducing a curriculum that erases White America’s burden of truth, over-testing children, and scaring away good teachers.  Today’s young people are tomorrow’s leaders, so the Republican Christian fundamentalists are working hard to ensure that children aren’t allowed to think for themselves by manipulating the educational system.  I don’t have anything against Christians or any other religious practice, but I stand for principles that created this country – freedom of speech and keeping religion out of government. 

The 2024 election isn't just about politics; it's a reflection of the very heart and character of America. As someone who cherishes the freedoms and opportunities America offers, I can't stand idly by while those values are under threat. The erosion of democracy isn't just an American problem; it sets a dangerous precedent for the world at large.  What America does matters because the world is watching and following our lead. 

I have hope again that America endures this madness.  I have hope because I’ve been privileged enough to know intelligent and thoughtful young people as a high school educator.  This next generation is bright, and they don’t allow people to pigeonhole them into a defined box.  They are not Democrats, and they are not Republicans.  They are fiercely independent thinkers, and I think they are going to forge new paths.  But I can’t let them carry the weight alone.  I am going to be there with them, and I am going to vote in 2024.   

The 2024 election is a chance for America to renew itself and live up to its promise of liberty and justice for all. As such, I cast my vote not out of blind allegiance but out of a deep-seated belief in the promise of America and the enduring power of democracy to effect change. That's a cause worth fighting for, no matter how far from home I may be. 

I hope you will join me and register to vote at  Democrats Abroad Portugal is here to help you with registration, answer your questions, and help you navigate the sometimes complex process of voting in American elections while living in Portugal. 

Flag Photo by Joshua Woroniecki on Unsplash