Over the last several weeks I have found myself in deep contemplation over what I learned and experienced in preparation for our first Salt City Pride. These experiences, conversations, and encounters, both positive and negative, will inevitably affect my choices in the upcoming midterm elections.

I, like many others, have always prided myself on the fact that I research each candidate, the issues brought to the table, and each candidate's voting record and background. Now, while this may be my process when it comes to voting, I acknowledge that others follow their own path when it comes to picking those who they hope will represent them.

Some make their choice on whom to vote for by voting according to party lines, while others may vote according to a family obligation, religious affiliation, or business background. Then there's those who simply choose not to vote. Throughout every election campaign, I have worked on, I have heard the same thing, “People simply do not understand how the system works.” While that may be an issue, it is a far less problem that one might think.

I spent thousands of hours speaking to individuals over the last year, and I found myself taken aback at not only their knowledge at how the midterm elections play into the bigger picture but at the overwhelming sense of anger towards our government in its entirety.

As I listened to each share their stories and thoughts, they all had one thing in common -- each felt that divisiveness was at an all-time high and they had lost faith in those that govern for both our state and federal entities. With every conversation, it became more evident that people felt unseen, unheard, and as if they were nothing more than pawns within a game.

What was amazing was the fact that these interactions did not just occur with Democrats. They happened with Liberals, Republicans, and Independents as well. They were people from all walks of life, nationalities, religions, sexual orientations, gender, and financial status.

The one thing each shared was anger at the state of affairs of our state and nation as a whole.

Among the many issues we spoke about were inequality for the LGBTQ, a higher minimum wage, taxes, education, and religious freedom bills. Now here is the real kicker: they were all registered and had voted in the past but have since made the conscious choice to stop voting.

I was appalled. Why would anyone choose not to vote? Why would anyone not choose to use their voice? Did they truly not understand the ramifications of lack of action when it came to elections?

Then, I remembered what each of those amazing people said to me. “They betrayed us.” “They broke their promises and our trust.” “They don't represent us they represent their PACS.” “We were nothing more than an experiment.” “Gerrymandering is such an issue in places.” These were not individuals that didn't care.” These were human beings that genuinely placed their faith in those voted into office who were then sold out for the sake of votes and benefactors. These were people who cared about their state and nation, did their homework, voted, and are now faced with a nation that is more divided than ever.

So allow me to give some advice to all running for office in the upcoming elections.

First, if you are running for office, recognize that this is not about you. In essence, you will work for and represent your constituents -- all of your constituents. Even the ones you may not agree with or like. If you are voted in, you will be a public servant, so be prepared to do your job and serve. If you are running simply to implement your own personal agenda then you have already failed and I suggest you take a seat at the back of the class.

Second, if you want our vote, then get ready to earn it. Tell us what you stand for. Show us a clear and precise plan and let us know how you intend to help our city and state. Our vote means that we have faith in you and that does not come without the knowledge of who you are as a person and how you intend to represent us. We don't want to see something that is made up by your PR people, we want to know who you are so that we can make an educated decision. The vote we cast for you means that we trust you will keep your word and will follow through with your campaign promises to the very best of your ability.

And finally, don't lie to your constituents. In today's age of social media and the ability to fact check practically anything, it is in your best interest not to lie. Your statements can and will be checked within a matter of minutes. We expect that you will stand by and represent us, the people that put you in that office, at all times. We expect you to fight for a better economy, better schools, better healthcare, and in general a better way of life.

Why? Because believe it or not it really does matter that we have a roof over our head, food on the table, a decent school for our children, and affordable health care. To the constituents, if you make the choice not to vote then don't complain. Your vote matters and apathy helps no one.

See you at the ballot box.

Julia Johnson is a social and political activist. She is a longtime resident of Hutchinson.