Your Vote Has International Impacts

Hand casting ballot next to words "Think Globally. Act Locally."

By Allison Hess

In some ways, a national election is just that: national. The choices made in a national election, however, can have enormous impacts internationally.

Global crises like climate change, the covid-19 pandemic, the threat of nuclear warfare, and more show us what interdependence really looks like. As voters in the United States get ready to cast their ballots in national, state, and local elections, let us consider how those votes ripple out to have a global impact.

Since its founding in 1962, the Unitarian Universalist Association Office at the United Nations (UU@UN) has worked alongside countries’ diplomatic staff at the UN Headquarters in New York City. The leader at the head of a country’s national government tends to be a strong indicator of that country’s participation at the UN. Usually, if a national government places a high priority on the diplomatic work at the UN, that country’s staff is ubiquitous and easy to collaborate with. At other times, a country might neglectfully or intentionally leave its UN Mission understaffed or give it an antagonistic agenda. The UU@UN represents both the UUA and Canadian Unitarian Council at the UN and has seen both the U.S. and Canadian UN Missions’ comportment shift between changing administrations. Those national elections have a clear impact on work done at the United Nations.

The President is the most obvious elected office to have international influence, since they are the one to appoint and, along with the Secretary of State, set the agenda for the Permanent Representative of the United States to the United Nations (aka the U.S. Ambassador to the UN). State and local elections can have international ramifications too. When the U.S. signs on to a treaty or resolution, the Executive Branch affirms whatever is in the document. However, many treaties do not actually take effect until a certain number of countries ratify them, meaning that the legislature embeds the document into the country’s laws. For that, we need Congress to act.

If Congress fails, local leaders can take the initiative to implement laws even if they’re not mandated nationally. For example, the U.S. has signed but not ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) which means that CEDAW is not enforceable by law in the U.S. But some U.S. cities have joined the “Cities for CEDAW” campaign and have adopted and implemented the convention locally.

Similarly, when the U.S. announced its intention to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, a coalition of U.S. mayors, governors, and business leaders came together to declare “We Are Still In.” The prominence of the We Are Still In coalition at UN climate conferences helps to push for meaningful climate solutions and assures the world that U.S. support for climate action is still strong.

Whether we like it or not, whether we deserve it or not, the United States is often a trend-setter for the world. When uprisings began in Minneapolis this summer in response to the murder of George Floyd, they spread not only to the rest of the United States but to the rest of the world. These global protests for Black lives have led to increased attention in several bodies of the United Nations to protect the health, rights, and livelihoods of people of African descent worldwide. Just look at a recent article on our blog to see the global impact of U.S. politicians on the spread of disinformation and fake news.

A core function of the United Nations as an intergovernmental body is to set standards and norms to guide policy-making at home. I’ve already mentioned CEDAW, which could help the U.S. institutionalize protection of women’s rights. There are also International Human Rights Standards for Law Enforcement that could supplement local demands to help create new ways to protect communities. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change regularly issues chilling reports that should be used to inform policies that will halt and reverse damage to our planet. Since the CDC’s advice can seem erratic, we can look to the World Health Organization for guidance on how we should adapt to the realities of a pandemic lifestyle.

I could keep listing pages and pages of UN conventions and agencies that offer solutions to the national and local issues we are trying to address in the United States. The reason for that? These are not just U.S. issues! Everything we’re dealing with here has parallels in other countries as well. The UN offers us a chance to work together to solve problems we all face. Those who ignore that chance for collaboration do so at their—and our—own peril.

The UU the Vote campaign hopes to contact over 1 million voters in the next few weeks before Election Day. Please take the pledge to #VoteLove and you’ll have the chance to sign up for phone-banking, training sessions, and more to energize the electorate up to and beyond Election Day.

May we elect leaders at all levels who will prioritize internationalism, global cooperation, and our Unitarian Universalist sixth Principle’s goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.