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Voting: How to Balance Respect for Experience and Opportunity for New Ideas

Published in ChicagoNow, March 14, 2017

There is something to be said for experience and institutional memory. James Baldwin told his followers, “Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.” So, here’s the rub. We need young and enthusiastic folks to enter the political process, but does that mean tossing out excellent elected officials simply because they have served for a long time?

When voting means having to choose between age and experience or youth and enthusiasm, it can be a very difficult decision. But simply declaring “out with the old and in with the new” may be a form of ageism, a bias against older people who have served their constituencies well.

Ageism really stings. I know because I have felt it since retiring. Even though my many years of experience in early childhood education and community volunteerism should be worth something, I have attended meetings where some of the younger folks seemed to tune me out when I offered my ideas. Sometimes, there was little interest in respecting the wisdom or listening to the opinions of someone who was not part of their generation. I was dismissed not for my ideas but because I was old.

To those who are inclined to embrace the new without also considering the qualifications and contributions of the person who has served for many years, here are three things to ponder:

  1. History means something. In any organization, it is very important to understand what happened in the past and how it evolved before moving forward. Institutional memory is valuable in making decisions.

  2. Listening and respect are always essential. Listening is more important than talking. You will never know what you don’t know unless you truly listen. Respect means taking a sincere interest in what others have to say.

  3. Not all new ideas are awesome and merit trying. Not all old ideas are worth perpetuating.

It is our job as voters to evaluate candidates free of our personal prejudices for someone new vs. someone tried and true. While it is very important to bring young people with different ideas into our political process, every electoral race must be considered on its own merits. To dismiss a competent incumbent just because he or she has served a long time is just as much age discrimination as to refuse to consider someone young.

I plan to vote in Evanston’s local election on April 4. As an older white woman, I’m part of the demographic that almost always votes, regardless of what’s on the ballot. This time, I will vote with a renewed appreciation for how much the small elections really matter. They are the foundation for the big ones that captivate everyone’s attention. They are an opportunity for me to make my voice heard at a level that affects my everyday life. And I will put a lot of thought into making the best choices I can for my town and its schools.

The people running for office are truly public servants. They give so much to the community for little fame or fortune. We should thank them by doing our homework and supporting the people we believe will do the best job. Above all, we need to remember that voting is a sacred duty and honor, even when it’s a small local election.


by Laurie Levy
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