Making informed decisions can make a difference.
Editor’s note: This is an early release article and will appear in the September 2020 issue of American Nurse Journal.
COVID-19. Social injustice and inequities. Safe staffing. Effectively addressing any one of these issues alone is a formidable task. Yet, if we want to influence how our communities, states, and the nation take on these and other significant issues, nurses across the country must do our part. One basic way involves learning where candidates for local office on up to the presidency stand on critical issues and then voting in the November 3 election.
Although it’s not the first time I’m sharing a message about the importance of political advocacy and engagement, September is National Voter Registration Month and our opportunity to vote is nearing. Every election is meaningful. However, given all the history-making events that have happened this year, this election seems momentous. Of course, that’s contingent on whether you and your family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors vote.
Voter turnout in the United States is not where it should be, even though voting is a precious right and civic responsibility. In the 2016 election—when the presidency was on the line—turnout among eligible voters was 61.4%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In the 2018 midterm election, it was only 53.4%.
I know many nurses have been pushing themselves to the limit and are physically and mentally exhausted by the pandemic and its multifaceted effects. I also know nurses who, after working their shifts, joined recent protests to end systemic racism or provided care to injured protesters. And many of you have taken the time to speak out on other issues, including the need for personal protective equipment, ending workplace violence, and ensuring access to care. I’m grateful for all you’ve done. But if we want to continue to make progress on vital issues and bring about societal change, strong voter turnout is essential.
The American Nurses Association’s (ANA’s) website nursesvote.org has a wealth of election-related information, including presidential candidates’ positions on nursing and healthcare issues and a one-stop voter registration center. The ANA–Political Action Committee also endorses candidates and elected officials running for Congress who exhibit a commitment to our key concerns. You can view those here. (All 435 seats in the U.S. House and 35 seats in the Senate are being contested.)
Additionally, I encourage you to seek out information from your state association and other reliable local sources on races for your state house and senate, governor, judgeships, and city council, among others. Many decisions—such as whether to save a rural hospital, hire more school nurses, or implement initiatives to end racism and discrimination—are made at the local level and can have a huge impact on your communities.
If you want to be more involved, engage in get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts by working with spiritual and other community leaders or writing a letter to the editor. I heard from a Florida nurse who’s leading an initiative to provide postage stamps for mail-in ballots to needy voters in her community. ANA’s nursesvote.org also provides GOTV information and volunteer toolkits. And for your safety, I encourage you to vote by mail—and early enough for your ballot to be counted—if it’s an option where you live.
In a recent JAMA op-ed, healthcare leader Donald M. Berwick, MD, MPP, expressed that “healers are called to heal.” He specifically wrote about health professionals’ role in addressing social and moral determinants of health. We are at a moment when each of us can help shape—help heal—our communities and our nation. We can do it by casting votes for those who share our vision of healthcare and a just, fair, and welcoming society.
Ernest J. Grant, PhD, RN, FAAN
President, American Nurses Association