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Stand up for children and #Votekids on Election Day :

August 31, 2016

Dr. DreyerDr. DreyerI’ve always been a “democracy junkie.” I’ve voted in every election — national, state and local — since I turned 21. A constitutional amendment was required to lower the voting age to 18, and I recall making the impassioned argument: “If 18-year-olds are old enough to be sent to (the Vietnam) war, they are old enough to vote!” The amendment finally passed in 1971.

Voting rights were a critical issue in the 1960s. Andy Goodman was a year ahead of me at Queens College, when he volunteered to go to Mississippi in the summer of 1964 to help register African-Americans to vote. Andy never returned. He and two other civil rights workers were killed by the Ku Klux Klan. I still remember our shock at the murder of our fellow student.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965, fought for so valiantly by African-Americans under the leadership of Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders, was vindication for the three murdered men. And it taught me that the right to vote is not only a cherished right of citizenship, but a matter of life and death.

I’ve never forgotten that lesson, and I always make sure to vote “on the issues” — not just pull the party lever. Of course, since becoming a pediatrician, I pay special attention to issues that impact children and families.

The upcoming election is particularly consequential because a new administration will be taking over with a new legislative agenda, and there likely will be changes in the leadership and priorities of many federal agencies. Thirty-four Senate seats and all 435 House seats are up for election. State and local elections are equally important, since many key issues for children and families are decided in those arenas.

We need to make sure children and families are at the center of the policy agenda. Since almost half our nation’s children are living in poverty or near poverty, we need government programs to lift them out of poverty and ameliorate poverty’s impact on their health and well-being. And since poor parents are less likely to vote than those with more resources (40% vs. 80%), it’s up to us to raise our voices for children and encourage the parents of our patients to vote.

Here’s how you can help:

  • Go to There you will find resources on how to register to vote, a #VoteKids social media toolkit and talking points about what’s at stake for children in this election.
  • Make sure your whole family votes, and encourage your friends and colleagues to #VoteKids as well.
  • Learn how the candidates will (or will not) make children a priority.
  • Give your patients’ parents a prescription to vote.

We think of the United States as the cradle of democracy. But the Constitution initially didn’t say much about voting. It took over 180 years to approach full suffrage for the American people. Initially, only white men who owned property could vote based on a variety of state laws. By 1856, all white men could vote, rich or poor. The 15th Amendment after the Civil War extended the right to vote to all men, regardless of color, but it wasn’t until the mid-1960s — with the 24th Amendment that eliminated poll taxes and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — that African-Americans could truly, freely vote. Famously, women didn’t get to vote until 1920.

Even today, states are legislating to restrict voting. Thankfully, the courts are striking down many of those laws as unconstitutional.

It’s been a long struggle to get real, functional democracy in the United States. Lives have been spent (think suffragettes), and lives have been given (think Andy Goodman or Medgar Evers) making this happen.

As the saying goes: “Bad politicians are elected by good people who don’t vote.” Don’t let this happen on Nov. 8. Kids can’t vote, but we can. Let’s all become “democracy junkies.” Let’s stand up for children and #VoteKids!

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