The year was 1996 and I had just turned 18. Like many teenagers I was excited to be considered an adult.
My friends were all gearing up for college and testing their newfound freedom that this age gave us. I on the other hand had a much different excitement inside of me. My enthusiasm at turning 18 came from a deep rooted sense of patriotism to my country. This would be the time in my life when I could proudly execute a right that so many had fought to make available to me. It also meant I would finally experience what later became one of the most memorable bonding moments with my father that I will never forget.
I was of age to vote.
You see, I come from a long line of Republican supporters. So much so, that Democrat was a curse word in my father’s vocabulary. It wasn’t just about the two parties though. No matter who took office, my dad supported the new president through his term. I never really paid attention to politics because I was too busy being a teenager but for some reason being able to finally vote in a presidential election was suddenly the most important thing in my life.
I will never forget the day my dad and I drove to the little church that was our polling site. I can still recall the pride that I felt walking with my father up to the line that was already forming outside. There were little white haired ladies handing out “I voted” stickers and golf pencils so we could mark in our votes. Electronic voting wouldn’t come until later.
The edges of my identification card bit into the palm of my hand as I jumped from foot to foot in anticipation. When one of the ladies handed me my sticker I blurted out, “It’s my first time to vote!” She smiled sweetly at me and moved down the line behind us.
Over the next half hour as we moved slowly toward the doors, my father explained in detail how important it was for me to vote in every election from this day forward.
I left that polling station that day a changed young woman. I felt liberated and stronger for having marked my ticket and I did vote again. In the next two elections. After that I seemed to have lost hope though. My father had passed away, my own family was struggling to stay together and I simply pushed one of my most important duties as an American aside.
As the current election draws near I find myself wondering why I gave up. I could say that it’s because I don’t think my vote counts. In a way I really don’t think it does, and I’ve been called un-American for thinking that way. If I am to search deeper though I can’t find a reason.
Until two days ago.
I opened an article written for The Washington Post titled “Why the election is taking an urgent and increasingly personal turn for Obama”.
The article states that President Obama is becoming increasingly aware of just how important and close this particular election is. He is concerned that Trump may have a real chance of winning the presidency and frankly I’m concerned as well. I applaud Obama for urging voters to turn up in record numbers but what I don’t applaud is the fact that he’s only focused on the Democratic party and black voters. In a recent speech he gave to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, he expressed how insulted he would be if black voters didn’t put forth their votes for Clinton. It would be an insult to his legacy. He went on to speak at a Manhattan fundraiser telling Democrats that the deep polarization in our country was making this a very close election.
You see in the past when America sat back and watched Trump and Clinton in the infant stages of this whole process, I don’t think any of us saw either of them being a viable nominee much less winning the nomination of their parties. Yet here we are facing the real knowledge that ONE of these two people will take the oath as our next president. It’s just a matter of hoping that we elect the lesser of two evils.
I think about my father a lot these days and I know as the day gets closer to visit the polls I will no doubt hear his speech from that day so many years ago in my head. How we are a free country and we have soldiers who fight for these freedoms such as voting. And how it is an insult to those that have fought for our freedom to ignore our civic duty. To ignore the hand we have in shaping a better America for future generations. I will no doubt feel guilty for not voting these past elections too.
So what I’d like to say to our president is this:
“Mr. Obama: Please stand next to your country. Take our hands and look into our eyes and remind ALL of us why it’s so important to vote. Not just your fellow Democrats or the African American community. The nation as a whole. Every religion, race, color and sex! Be the father of this country that we the people elected you to be. Teach us the importance again of why our voices matter. Not that they only matter depending on which party we follow but that they matter in all things. Mr. President now is the time to encourage and strengthen our nation. The road that lies ahead of us the next four years will be a very hard one. We are like your children in a sense sir. We depend on your guidance and we look to your instruction on how to be a better America. That is also your job. Your legacy will hold strong as a father of our nation if you spend these last two months speaking to us, walking side by side with us and showing us the way. No matter who wins this election, Democrat or Republican, America will need all the strength and hope it can get to make it through. You Mr. President are that powerful voice that every one of us needs to hear.”
Photo: Getty Images