So you registered to vote and have checked the location of your voting place. You know where to go and how to use the machine. So you’re all set, right?

Not quite yet. The other piece of that puzzle is to be aware of who has earned your vote and why. That why part is important.

When you step into the booth to vote, you aren’t there just representing yourself. You are there representing the past, present and future. You are there adding your voice to the conversation about what our society will be.

There is only one voice that has always had a voice in our democracy. At one point, the opinions and wishes of white male landowners were the only things that counted or mattered. Every other group has had to fight in some way for their natural right to speak and be heard.

Power never concedes willingly. Those without it have always had to wrench it free from the clutches of those who want to hoard it for themselves. The path to this point in voter inclusion is riddled with the bodies of those who sacrificed so that others may have what was denied to them. It is for them that you vote.

In our current political climate voters are constantly being pelted with hot-button issues designed to get them focused on the trees while others clear-cut the forest. So-called identity politics are the bright flashy issues that attract a lot of attention but really are just a distraction from the bigger picture.

While it is true that we are not a homogeneous society, it is a ruse for us to believe that the issues facing the community I claim are not connected to the issues another group may claim. Everything is connected because they take resources. How the resources of our society get utilized and distributed is directly related to the officials we elect and the officials they in turn appoint or hire. The decisions we make today do have lasting effects on the future, but they also have immediate effects on today.

People are making laws about issues like gun control, wage equality, health care access, educational opportunities and environmental protection right now that will determine how we live our lives right now.

If you have children in the public school system, it matters who is on the Board of Education. If you have someone battling a chronic illness, it matters who runs the Health Department. If you have been a victim of or been accused of a crime, it matters who the judges and prosecutors are. These jobs get decided and filled all the time by those we vote into office. So while it may seem like you only have to look out for your own self-interest when you vote, your vote actually has more power than that. It affects your neighbor, your coworker, your friends and family. It is for them that you vote, too.

As quickly as it seems changes get made sometimes by any given election, societal change actually comes very slowly. Emancipation happened 170 years ago in a rapid turn of events that saw hundreds of Africans go from enslaved to free overnight. However, the road to full equality and restitution has been long and continues. It has taken incremental moments along the way to reach where we are. So many who came before us fought and protested and demanded rights and freedoms for us that they knew they themselves would never enjoy. Like them, the choices we make now may take generations to bear fruit, but if we don’t plant the seeds now, the results will never manifest. It is for those future generations we will never see that we vote.

Sometimes it can feel like there is so much to fix that you don’t know where to start. This last year has also taught us, once again, that no matter what we want the future to hold, sometimes there are forces beyond our control that can change the trajectory on which we thought we were traveling.

We did not expect to have the year we just had. We did not expect to lose the resources we lost. We did not expect to be thrown off course in the way that we have been. Plans that we had no longer fit the reality of where we are.

That’s life. Life is the past, present and future woven together in an intricate pattern that is ever-changing. That’s why, when we think about who we want to lead us, we need to consider their past, present and future. What have they done already to show their commitment to the growth of the community? Who do they associate with and who has helped shape their character and beliefs? What is their vision and plan for the future, and how flexible can they be to whatever challenges may come?

With about a month to go there is still plenty of time to educate yourself on the candidates and be ready to make an informed and thoughtful decision. Casting your vote is one moment in your life when you are simultaneously existing in the past, present and future. Make it count.

— Mariel Blake is a Daily News columnist.

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