Ready to vote? I am.

Vote!I know it's a bit late in the game for those with early voting, but I just wanted to write a letter about voting this year. I do this every election for my friends and family, though I often write it more for those in the concentric circles around the people I know than for those closest to me. I often see or represent some groups plenty of people don't have a familiarity with or a real awareness of.

Perhaps obviously, I'd also encourage you to pen a letter like this of your own, but you're also more than welcome to circulate mine.

What I don't usually do is publish this letter or who I am voting for, but I am making an exception this year.

For those not in the know, I'm a longtime Green Party person. And I have loved that this year, my parties presidential ticket is two amazing women of color, two peacemakers, two big thinkers, two women who -- in my book -- really get it and who could be amazing leaders.

While I'd love to vote for my party (wouldn't I always!), this is another of those years where I don't feel able to do that, because there is simply no room for what ultimately is a symbolic vote. This country isn't ready for a two-woman ticket yet, let alone a third party or the Green party. I don't like the two-party system, but at the same time, I don't feel like this week is the right time for me to fight that battle. However, I have to say that this year, I don't feel very let down about voting outside my party. In fact, even if my party had a chance this time around, I'd probably still vote outside of it.

I want to take a few minutes of your time and tell you not about me, but about some of the women I meet at the clinic I work at, who come into my office for counsel and tell me some of the most intimate details of their lives. As you already know, I provide education to millions of young people every year (with no public funding, by the by, due to providing accurate information, a drought which will continue in another Republican administration), and counsel anywhere from ten to fifty people one-on-one daily at Scarleteen. But I don't sit down with them in person the way I do with the women at the clinic: I don't see their faces, they don't ask me for a hug or to hold their hand, or cry where I can see them when I simply acknowledge the challenges they face as real and not at all unimportant.

I want to tell how you much they are like me, you, other women and people you know. I want to tell you how important they are, even though they are clearly so easy for some to ignore or dismiss, even though they are so often rendered invisible.

Many of them already have more children than they can support or care for. Many are of color and/or low-income, and often become pregnant not because they have planned pregnancies with cooperative partners, but because their access to contraception has become more and more limited thanks in part to the Bush administration over the last eight years. Many also have sexually transmitted infections as well as being unwantedly pregnant, both too frequently due to an ignorance purposefully cultivated by the Bush administration through the billions of dollars sunk into knowingly inaccurate abstinence-only education, some of those funds even moved from family planning programs which not only provide accurate information, but also provide things like contraception, sexual healthcare and maternal healthcare for women who WANT to be or remain pregnant.

Some are in my office because they have been raped, a crime which still is diminished by so many of our leaders (and Palin did indeed allow Wasilla to charge rape victims, sometimes as much as over $1,000, for the rape kits done on them by the justice system: we see a lot of clients at our clinic from Alaska), and where also many women find themselves denied emergency contraception to prevent pregnancies due to Bush administrative support of healthcare providers refusing to supply effective and wanted contraception to women based on their own "moral" judgments. Bush may well leave a legacy of an HHS policy to be decided on this week which now would allow doctors and healthcare workers in public healthcare, even in healthcare clinics specifically for family planning, to refuse all contraception to patients based on their own personal feelings about the "immorality" of family planning.

Many have such a hard time taking care of the children they already have because they still are not paid at the same rates as men (despite often having the greater burden of expenses, particularly single mothers) Many, like myself, live without healthcare or in grossly inadequate public health programs, if they can even qualify for those. Many have children who are having to also go without healthcare (bear in mind that our child mortality and health rate is one of the worst of all developed nations); many have children who most certainly have been a child left behind when it comes to education. Some of them do not even want to terminate their pregnancies: they would want to have more children, but the reality of their lives -- they are often already parents, they know what parenting requires -- does not allow for that choice, nor does the continued lack of support for mothers and children in this country, a hard irony coming from those who say they want to prevent abortion. Some grew up in foster care, and know too well the truth of how many adoptive families there really are out there, especially when we're talking about children of color: they don't want to risk birthing a child who will end up in the foster care system.

Given we have a big base here in Washington, some are in the military (where abortion has been banned and contraceptive access grossly limited in recent times, a ban McCain/Palin supports, and this in spite of the fact that the rate of sexual assault for women in the military is exponentially higher than it is for civilian women), some have partners in the military. Many of the women with partners in the military take care of two many children without help or assistance, and suffer from neglect or domestic violence due to partners who come home suffering from PTSD, gross fatigue, injuries and other issues and ailments our VA has been doing little about. (This is a particular issue for women in the military, who are having a doubly-tough time getting veterans care and assistance.) Many of these military families have had losses over the years due to the war in Iraq, and many of them still in service there want to just come home.

John McCain and Sarah Palin not only both seek to axe Roe vs. Wade, they both have records and statements of nonsupport for the many things we know prevent abortion in the first place: sound family planning programs, accurate sex education, domestic violence prevention, and an awareness of the many women whose lives do not even remotely resemble their own. John McCain and Sarah Palin have every intention of continuing harmful abstinence-education policies as well as continuing to underfund or reduce sound family planning. McCain was also one of the rare senators who has voted against anti-domestic terrorism measures (the FACE act) for clients and workers at family planning and abortion clinics: the law and protections which help keep our clients -- including those coming in just for a pap smear or birth control, or for pregnancy testsw when they want to REMAIN pregnant -- my co-workers and myself from being bombed or shot in the head on any given day.

The McCain healthcare plan is lunacy, seeming reasonable only to those with the wealth to actually HAVE $5,000 a year to spend on healthcare. McCain also has opposed many things which would improve the status of mothers, children and families in the states, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act. McCain voted to take $75 million from the Maternal and Child Health Block to fund abstinence-only programs, and voted to terminate Title X, our national family planning program which serves those most in need of birth control and reproductive health services.

John McCain and Sarah Palin are against the Lily Ledbetter act, a bill which would allow women more time to discover their pay isn't fair and to seek restitution. They paint it as a "lawyer's dream," cavalierly -- perhaps because neither of them are in personal need of it -- but it's a woman's dream: it certainly was Lily Ledbetter's dream when she discovered after a good deal of time -- as is often the case -- how unfairly she was being treated. Nearly all of the veterans organizations are in support of Obama and Biden. Despite being a veteran himself, John McCain has not had a record of being particularly helpful for or supportive of other veterans.

Neither John McCain nor Sarah Palin are feminist: neither ever have, nor intend to, provide real support or help for all women nor to strive for gender equality. from what I can tell, John McCain was not looking to empower women with his choice of Palin: he was looking to empower himself with eye-candy and someone the religious right would like better than they like him. McCain has voted continually to cut or underfund the Violence Against Women Act which Biden has been the champion of and the Victim Economic Security and Safety Act which Obama passed.

John McCain and Sarah Palin are no friends of general public education (or the arts), which empowers those most marginalized in this nation, both intellectually and emotionally: the women and children most at-risk of some of the worst circumstances are more often the most uneducated or undereducated. Suffice it to say, John McCain and Sarah Palin are also no friend of anyone who is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

Barack Obama and Joe Biden not only fit all of these bills, they fit most fantastically.

These are issues they not only have a realistic awareness of, but a deep desire to remedy. These are issues they actually talk about, and make actual plans for, rather than barely give lip service to in order to court favor or votes, when even that is given at all. These are issues they view through the lens of fairness and equity, not through the lens of what they want for themselves or via their personal religious doctrines.

If these issues seem less important than taxes, the war in Iraq or international diplomacy, I'd posit you reconsider. All in all, no matter who wins, someone is likely to have to pay higher taxes. All in all, no matter who wins, given the systems of support per the very structure of our government, we're probably going to do just fine when it comes to diplomacy (though I'd say Obama will likely do a better job there, given how many foreign nations have voiced a far deeper respect for him than McCain). All in all, no matter who wins, working our way out of the mess Bush has made in Iraq is going to be difficult at best.

But the kinds of issues I'm talking about aren't minor or secondary. Civil rights, human rights, issues are foundational for our nation and for the quality of life of everyone here. They are the very reason this nation was founded, and why the men and women who entered into the wild experiment that was democracy here took the grave risks they did to do so. They knew -- as so many of us know -- that life is only so valuable without a certain quality of life. They didn't find these kinds of issues to be trivial, neither do I...and neither should any of us.

These kinds of issues are where we can really see the biggest differences between the candidates, and they are profound differences which deeply impact the quality of life of so many citizens. These are the kinds of issues where we can get a good look at who a candidate really cares about, and if they truly have in mind the interests of all of us, or merely some. These are the issues where we can see if a candidate intends to unite all of us or create or enable deeper divisions. These are, in my mind, the kinds of issues where we can see who is ready to lead (and where to) and who is not.

I won't lie, I want things to be better for me, personally.

I want healthcare for the first time in over 20 years: I need it badly. I want the young people I counsel to come to me able to spell, and the young women I see at Scarleteen to not doubt their equality as they still so often do. I want those of us who aren't heterosexual to have the same rights as those who are. I want to be able to continue to obtain contraception since I continue to know I cannot afford a child -- financially or per our joint health. I do not want to have to counsel women choosing abortion solely or primarily because they have not been afforded the same rights and benefits as other women when it comes to contraception, maternal healthcare, pay, protection from abuse or assault and other equities anymore. I want to be able to get the same funding for the accurate, needed health information I supply to millions a year that organizations who don't even serve a fraction of that number of, and who supply purposefully and knowingly inaccurate information to (and part of my job is often correcting, or managing crises which have arisen from that misinformation), do. I want the arts supported. I want equal pay for equal work.

I want this country to stop calling one-sided xenophobic assaults "wars" or "liberation." I want for America to stop being the country every other country validly despises and is ashamed of. I want for the 20 years I have spent in activism about education, women's rights, young people's rights and sexual and reproductive health to really mean something, and for a chance to do the work I do without constantly feeling I am fighting a battle I cannot make strides in, let alone win.

But -- and perhaps even more so -- I want these things and more for the women I meet at the clinic.

The beauty is that taking care of their needs doesn't stand in the way of taking care of my needs, your needs or anyone else's needs.

That's the beauty of real fairness, real equity, real investment in the aims laid down in the Constitution and the heart of this nation. That's the beauty of being civic-minded, and doing your best to think, when you vote, not just of yourself but for all of us as a nation.

I don't expect Barack Obama or anyone else to be able to fix all of this in a mere four years. But what I do expect, and am absolutely certain I will see, is for Barack Obama to try. I do expect both some actual remedies and also real groundwork laid in order to make the fixes which are more long-term possible, as well as a foundation and a spirit which may well just influence how people think so that people like the invisible women I see become more visible. I have not been even remotely hopeful that that is something I would finally start seeing for years: it is an amazing thing to feel it possible in the near future today.

That's a whole lot of why I'm not only voting outside my party and for Barack Obama, but why I feel exceptionally good about it. And it's why I'd ask you to consider doing the same.

If you're still on the fence, do some research today. Be sure to look through the nonpartisan voting guide at Scarleteen here:

But whatever you do, by all means, please vote. And when you do, do your very best to do so with the real aims of this nation -- and with your hopes, not your fears -- at heart.

~ Heather Corinna, Scarleteen Founder