There are those days that you envision years in the future, knowing that it will happen, yet it always feels so distant.
Well, yesterday, one of those moments arrived: my name, on an absentee ballot, telling me to mail in my vote.
I spent just a good five minutes staring at this piece of paper, trying to process the fact that I will have a vote on Super Tuesday this year (March 3rd), the date of California’s presidential primary election. A whirlwind of emotions was surrounding me as I slowly went through the ballot, all culminating in my immense sense of gratitude to be able to participate in a democracy, in this democracy.
People long before my parents were born and even after they were born were imprisoned and killed for trying to get someone like me the right to vote. They didn’t know who they were fighting for, but they knew that I deserved the chance to be able to exercise my right to vote just like any other white American. The way with which we frame having the rights we have often neglects, as Nikole Hannah-Jones noted in the first essay of the 1619 Project, that Black Americans were the only group in this nation’s history who believed truthfully in all the words of the Constitution. Thomas Jefferson didn’t want Black people to vote, James Madison didn’t want women to vote, and for much of our nation’s first few decades, our founders didn’t want anyone who didn’t own property to be able to vote. But it was Black Americans who remained perhaps the most patriotic in garnering equal protection of our rights for everyone.
There was that train of thoughts that were going through my mind, but there was also another aspect of privilege by being an American citizen and having a vote that, at least more than other places, count. It took me a long time to process the fact that my parents grew up in a communist Ethiopia without a vote, and for at least the first few years in America, didn’t have a vote here. They weren’t able to participate in a democracy during their younger years in the way that I have had the privilege to do so now. No matter what the actual right we have here in America, I see the privilege of being in the circumstances I am in to be able to have a say.
All of these thoughts briefly were going through my mind as I read through my first ballot I will ever fill out last night. I don’t know how I will have the chance to make the lasting political impact I one day want to see in America. But, at least now, I can make sure to make the impact to vote and be an active citizen in the nation that because of its flaws, I so desperately want to make it live up to its constitution.
I see my vote as not only an obligation to make the most of my citizenship but as a way to hopefully enact the change in American policy I want to see. For many of my peers, this is our first election, coming at a crucial inflection point in politics. I won’t stray from what I know, that 2016 was the election that caused irrevocable damage to our nation (from judicial appointments to terrible tax policy), but that doesn’t mean we can’t do anything today to reconcile some of those actions.
So, if an older person won’t beg you enough, I am begging you to please vote. I genuinely could not care less about who you vote for so long as you vote informed on what you want out from your voice. I would rather have a candidate who I may not support win, but there be higher voter turnout amongst young people. That may sound insane, but I do believe that an informed, more active electorate is what we need to be able to come to the consensus and progress we all want out of politics. Then, maybe, our democracy will represent the values of people our age.
Find more about how you can vote in your state at vote.org