Jesse Jackson inspired me to become a committed voter; Trump made me a principled voter.

Emma Petty Addams, Opinion contributor
·4 min read

Some may find it surprising that the Rev. Jesse Jackson greatly impacted the political life of this white, suburban Latter-day Saint woman.

In 1995, he came to Stanford University and delivered a stirring address to 2,000 students. As Jackson spoke, I felt the solemn weight of citizenship and a pressing need to never take it for granted.

I’m a little embarrassed that his message about bigotry, war and segregation was lost on me that day. But I am profoundly grateful that at age 19, it was burned into my civic consciousness that it is my privilege and duty to vote at any cost and to encourage others to do the same.

For the next 20 years, I voted (often with a baby or young child in my arms) as a Republican in every election, using that party’s platform and candidates as a guide for completing my ballot.

My children are older now and my county in Omaha, Neb., automatically sent vote-by-mail ballot applications to all residents for the 2020 election. For me, the act of voting has never been easier or more convenient.

But the process of choosing who and what earns my vote now requires more work because I no longer rely upon a political party as my main source of guidance.

This is because my run as a mostly Republican voter came to a screeching halt in 2016. Muslims are not terrorists, and Mexicans are not rapists. There was nothing so sacred about conservative policy or Supreme Court judges that justified allowing hateful rhetoric to shape public policy.

Take time to listen, learn

After the election, I listened more closely to my liberal friends and to politicians I had previously ignored. I read book after book to try to understand systemic racism. I asked a lot of questions, seeking out voices of immigrants, refugees and those whose American experience was starkly different than mine.

I began to realize my previous votes had been cast mostly out of self-interest, with little consideration for how they might affect those around me. I felt the earth shifting a bit beneath my feet.

During this time, I also joined Mormon Women for Ethical Government, a unique nonprofit full of women from all along the ideological spectrum. We discuss and analyze politics, taking advantage of lively discourse and diverse viewpoints, and then seek to proactively make peace in the public sphere by advocating for the issues we care about.

Many, like me, had been lifelong Republicans but were entering 2017 politically homeless, frustratedand fired up.

As we studied and learned together, I discovered that though I have always had free and easy access to the polls, there are many in my country who do not. My focus turned from my own vote and toward the rights of others.

I began volunteering part time for MWEG and eventually joined its leadership team. This gives me a front row seat to the sort of innovative thinking that happens when the tension emerging from conflicting viewpoints is harnessed for good.

In MWEG, we call this peacemaking! Now I can articulate what I believe I had known all along — that no political ideology has the corner on truth and that we need to hold our elected officials accountable at every turn.

Evaluate each candidate

I feel a responsibility to be a principled voter who evaluates candidates and policies against a set of ethical principles rather than being taken in by personality or tribalism.

This ideological journey toward principled voting has brought me back full circle to the day Jackson inspired me to be a committed voter. I feel that same passion when I think about the power of an individual, casting her vote in a profound act of duty and love for her country. But now I am voting in a far more expansive way.

I still tend to lean conservative but no longer believe that ideology to be morally superior. Less unencumbered by party loyalties, I see in 2020 that voting should be more than just about me and my rights.

As a citizen and a Christian, I am excited to use my vote to help assure and defend that right for all Americans.

Principled voting requires more work on my part. But I believe my country is worth the effort.

Emma Petty Addams is a mother, musician and the executive director of Mormon Women for Ethical Government. She lives in Omaha, Neb. with her husband and three sons.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: How Donald Trump changed me from committed voter to principled voter