My very first political memory was watching Bill Clinton debate someone. It must’ve been the 1996 election, so that’d be Bob Dole. I don’t remember what they were talking about but I remember watching the TV, and then turning around and asking my parents, “You’re going to vote, right?” And my Dad responded with pride, “Of course!”
It never would’ve occurred to my parents to not vote. They’d worked too hard for it. My family arrived from India on January 1st, 1988, when I was just 7 months old. We were sponsored, thus getting our visas fast tracked, by my aunt and uncle who had lived here since the 70s. My parents gave up lives in India, with people they knew, in communities they had deep roots in. They showed up here with a few suitcases of clothes, the love of family and a dream of building better lives for their kids. You’re damn right my parents were voting.
One of my earliest memories is from 1993, when my parents, my sisters and I went down to the Immigration and Naturalization Services office in Chicago. I remember my mom telling me, “If anyone asks you any questions, just answer as best you can.” Used to be when I would tell this story, I would in hindsight scoff at the idea of an immigration official questioning a child. Times change.
I didn’t understand this at the time, but we were there so that my parents could take the Citizenship Test, which consists of passing a written and oral test on American history and civics. (One third of natural born citizens fail the test, my 15-year-old niece could be one of them, while 97.5% of immigrants pass.)
So voting has always been obviously important to me as a measure of civic engagement, and as an important civic duty. There’s been an article from New York Magazine making the rounds about why some millennials haven’t voted in the past, or aren’t planning to vote. I cannot, in the slightest, identify with any of these people. To paraphrase, One time I voted and didn’t get what I want. Voting doesn’t do anything! Protesting tickles my lizard brain better! is not a sentiment I can respect.
But I’m clearly in the minority. Only 55% of eligible voters cast ballots in the 2016 election. Midterm elections are usually around 40%. People just don’t vote in this country. We’ve always been bad at it. Ask yourself: If you had just 11 years earlier overthrown the yoke of the most powerful empire on Earth, and founded a new country, and were holding an ELECTION for the leader of that country, would you vote? I’d wager you’d say yes. How many of our countrymen do you think said the same in 1788, upon the election of the first American president, George Washington? 12 percent! Just 12% of white landowning males could be bothered to do the thing they’d just finished fighting a war for!
But today, I implore you to vote. I pine for it. I’d beg, if I thought it would help. I won’t recap the abundant reasons available on the front pages of every national newspaper. They say it every time, and every time I roll my eyes, but this really is the most important election of our lifetimes. Even if you’re skeptical of the power of voting, with everything that’s going on, this may be the time your voice is most important. This is the time when everyone agrees that the country is sitting on a knife’s edge, ready to teeter. Speak up. Let your voice be heard on the issues you care about most.
Who knows, maybe you’ll like it.
A few notes: Colorado is gloriously a vote by mail state, and if you’re registered to vote you should’ve already received your ballot in the mail. It’s too late to mail it back for it to count, so return it to one of many 24 hour ballot drop off boxes before 7 PM. The Secretary of State can tell you if you’re registered, and where. If you are not registered, or registered at an old address, you can update your registration at a Voter Service Center and Polling Place, of which in Longmont there are three. Bring a valid form of ID such as a driver’s license or other DMV issued ID, a passport, or a utility bill. If you are working more than 9 hours tomorrow, then your employer is legally required to give you two paid hours off in order to go vote (though you were supposed to request it yesterday so…ask nicely?).
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