Two days ago I voted in my first general election. It was a long road to get here, and as a first timer I might be able to offer a unique perspective on this three ring circus we call an election cycle. It all began last summer when my sister and I found a handy, dandy list that included all the political candidates on both sides. We spent a merry thirty minutes researching every candidate from Jill Stein to Jeb Bush. As first-time voters we wanted to be informed. My family gained our dual citizenship back in 2014 and so this was it, the first time we’d be able to exercise our civic duty. We were too young to vote when we left the UK and still on our visa/green card during the 2008/2012 election cycles. For those years we watched, but never really gave the process too much thought as we knew we had no power to cast a vote either way. We just had to sit back and enjoy the show. One of the perks of the American immigration system is that you spend years working your way through the system legally, paying the same taxes as citizens do, and receive no representation in the government.
It’s a grand ole’ time. Anywho, back to the beginning of this thing. We carefully combed through the stances and issues each candidate represented. I fell in love with a man named Bernie Sanders. From that point to the heart-breaking day he stepped down and endorsed Hillary, he was bae. I have no doubt he will always be my most ardent political love and my most soul-crushing political heartbreak. I phone banked for him, canvassed, went to rallies and went to awesome parties themed around him like Berniefest. If you’d like to know why he was the man for me, feel free to check out my previous blog https://gracehatton.wordpress.com/2016/03/15/why-i-used-my-first-vote-to-vote-for-bernie-sanders/
I found the process of volunteering for him thoroughly edifying and even when I was being yelled at over the phone for supporting a socialist, or being flicked off by T-ump supporters I held my ground. I believed in him. I found the argument that people wouldn’t vote for him ‘because he couldn’t win’ utterly baffling. People seemed to like Bernie much more than Hillary, but didn’t want to vote his way because they felt he couldn’t win the primary. I wanted to scream at them ‘Of course he won’t win if you don’t freakin’ vote!’. I grew even more frustrated when I asked my fellow Bernie supporters if they had registered to vote and if they were ready to vote on March 15th (Florida’s primary). Most gave me silly excuses like they had an old address on file and were worried they would be committing voter fraud by going to vote with another address, or that they were registered in another state. All of these things could have been easily changed, but that seemed too much work for most people. Instead they continued to offer social media support in droves, and if this election was based on who received the most social media traction Sanders would have won (dank meme stash anyone?) However, that’s not how elections work.
They are decided by votes. Yet it was clear so many were uninformed. The amount of people that had no idea when the primary was, or even how the primaries worked irritated every molecule in my body. Despite this frustration, I continued to remain stand fast in my commitment to the primary process. I followed every state. When Sanders won I was overjoyed, when he lost I felt defeated. My emotions were so closely tied to that man from January through June. I came home crying after Super Tuesday because, as much as no one wanted to admit it, I knew T-ump was going to win the Republican side and from the looks of things Hillary was going to get the Democratic side. I knew the majority of voters, including myself, didn’t wholly trust Hillary and that would lead to an extremely tight race between Hillary and T-ump.
Like many of my fellow Berners, I held out hope all the way to the Democratic National Convention. We wanted some freak of nature to happen, the DNC to admit their wrongdoing and in turn put Sanders forward as the nominee. When the e-mails came out showing the DNC had systematically worked against Sanders, we all thought, THIS IT! Surely the DNC will see the errors of their ways and put our man Sanders up for the nomination, but there were dead set on Hillary. Then it happened, Sanders endorsed Clinton and she became the nominee. You could hear it, the communal heartbreak that resounded around the states. Bernie represented something more than just politics. He represented change, progress and a democratic socialist movement. That was lost when he endorsed Clinton. Here’s a recap of the pain my fellow Berners and I felt during the Democratic National Convention.
I ignored social media for a few days after that. When I was phone banking I had multiple older people tell me they were glad I was so fired up for a candidate, but I should prepare to be let down. They told me that very rarely does the political candidate you love make it to the final push. I had assured them they were wrong, that Bernie couldn’t be stopped. I was wrong. That was a hard pill to swallow. Then came the process of deciding if I was going to vote for the woman I had been fighting against or if I was going to vote third party.
Let me be clear: I don’t believe a third party vote is a wasted vote. If America is ever to move beyond a black and white, Republican vs Democrat mentality we have to embrace other parties. To those who say 3rd parties candidates never become president, remember Lincoln was a 3rd party candidate. At the time of his election, the Democrats (who weren’t so great at that point, cough, pro-slavery, cough) and the American Party (also known as the Know Nothing party and the Native American Party) were the two dominant parties. The Republicans came up on an anti-slavery platform and the undeniable presence of Lincoln allowed them to rise from obscurity to the white house. At that time the Republicans were “third party” but if voters would have neglected to vote for them just because they weren’t one of the major parties, we wouldn’t have one of the most iconic Presidents in history and most likely slavery would have continued for much longer.
Granted, this was a long time ago, but it shows that it hasn’t always been this Republican VS Democrat system. Also, there is nothing in the constitution that says only two parties can have majority. We don’t have to accept the current system. Yet in order for change to happen, we have to remove the stigma of voting third party and more people have to support third party candidates. Jill Stein, of the Green Party, tempted me. She had very similar values to Bernie and had even been willing to give Bernie her nomination. Yet as T-ump gained steam, for some reason I still can’t fathom, I realized one thing: he was practically unstoppable because the only group he hadn’t offend was the group that showed up to vote.
T-ump had avoided offending older, white men. Of all the demographics, this is the one that shows up consistently– ranging from 60 to 70% attendance. This meant although he had virtually offended everyone he had befriended the community that actually shows up to vote, meaning he had a hell of a good chance of winning. This was the thought that absolutely terrified me. I cannot fathom a T-ump presidency. The amount of bigotry, hate and misogyny that man spews out is diabolical. Besides that the amount of backsliding this country would do under his leadership is truly terrifying. The man suggested getting rid of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Board of Education for heaven’s sake! Our planet is in peril, our education system is failing, health care is far behind many other developed countries (who are almost all on government run single payer systems) and gender inequality is very much a real thing. Obama has made huge strides, but in order for that progress to be built upon I knew our only hope was to elect a Democratic nominee.
So I spent weeks mulling it over and considering every angle, until I decided that the only way to stop T-ump was Clinton. I decided that she would be the best option for this country at this moment in our existence. I received a lot of backlash from my religious friends. To be clear, not religious friends my age (who are mainly democratically inclined) but instead old friends from England and older Christians. Apparently I’m going to hell guys. Never mind the whole believe that Jesus is the risen Son of God, admit your sins and confess him as your Lord and Saviour thing. Apparently that all goes out the window when you vote Democrat. But I pushed through it.
I tried not to let my brain explode every time I met a T-ump supporter or saw T-ump literature etc. I tried to remember that everyone is valid and is entitled to their own experiences. I enjoyed all the late night shows commentary, all the memes and the general craziness that went all with things. Then the primaries for Congress, Senate etc rolled around and I received my sample ballot. I find the ballots confusing, bulky and unappealing. None the less the same way I researched every Presidential candidate, I researched everyone on a local level and made an informed decision.
Side Rant: It is amazing how many people running for public office don’t even have a website and how hard it is to find the voting record of Judges. This was ridiculous to me, if you want my vote – pay $10 to HostGator and get yourself a website, like a grown up.
Again, the amount of people who still weren’t registered and had no idea another primary was even happening blew my mind. Civic engagement seems to be almost non-existent. I’ll admit every ballot I’ve received has taken me a few hours to get through all the names and research all the candidates. This is not a fun process. Many political websites look the same and have similar talking points. It can get a little blurry. Then there is the hassle of getting to a polling station, etc etc. There are many flaws in this system, (check out the video below). Due to these issues a very small part of me understands the low turnout.
However, the larger part of me, the part of me that is made up of me being a woman and an immigrant (which you know is a lot) is incredibly irritated by this country’s almost lethargical approach to civic engagement. My female ancestors had to fight for the right to vote, they were arrested, they were beaten and they were ridiculed. But they made it through. Every woman should be energized to vote. As an immigrant I’ve had to endure years of this system, years of ignorance and sitting by not being able to do anything. Every immigrant who is lucky enough to make it to the citizenship stage, should be enthused to vote. Yet we’re not. Then we complain about the laws these officials make.
Three times now I’ve walked into a polling station to vote for candidates I did my research on and believed in. I might not have agreed with everything they stood for 100%, but I believed in their ability to move my city, state and country forward. Yet when I see this lack of engagement I grow disheartened and when I see all this ridiculous laws about ID etc being imposed I get livid. On top of that don’t get me started on how most states are ‘winner takes all’ (like seriously, WTF) and the Electoral College. That all being said I took all those feelings of rage, frustration, disappointment and general bleh-nesss and turned them into a catchy slogan, mainly for me, in my head, to keep me calm: It’s all a little absurd, but none the less necessary.
To speak to the ‘absurd’ part of that sentence here are two other nifty videos explaining deep, deep flaws with the electoral college/election rules. One is short. One is a little longer.
Now for the ‘none the less necessary’ part. Don’t get me wrong; I firmly believe this system needs to change. Unfortunately unless we’re willing to go all ‘1776’ or ‘Viva La France’ on this, we have to implement change by electing officials that believe the system is broken and can be improved upon. Yet we cannot elect officials if we don’t show up to vote. We have to adapt the system from the inside out, thus the ‘necessary part’. Right now a majority is voting (those lovely older white men we discussed) and unless we all commit to doing our research and showing up, they will continue to run this country while we bitch about it on Facebook.
Don’t let that happen anymore. You can be the difference with a few simple steps.
Do your research: yes its annoying and time consuming, but much less time consuming than putting up with elected officials you hate.
Fall in love with candidates and fight for them: I will never regret feeling the bern, and I will continue to look for candidates like him that support a progressive vision for this country.
Get Registered and Informed about Primaries etc: Registering is actually very quick, but keep in mind each state is different in regards to what you declare yourself as and at what points you can vote. Many states have closed primaries etc, which limit what you can vote for in the primaries and mids. Which I also found maddening, but again we’ve got to shake things up from the inside.
Be Nice to the Poll Workers: Polling stations and supervisor of election offices etc are severely understaffed and many states have dramatically cut down on stations (cough, Arizona, cough). This is not the poll workers fault, those laws are passed by the people we elect. Remember that those poll workers are not trying to steal your vote or screw you over. They are doing a job and have been given a certain set of rules to follow. Smile at them, thank them and make your voting experience as smooth as butter.
Here’s the deal. The American system is flawed, some might argue extremely flawed. My own experience has been far from perfect, but I can say I’m proud of how engaged I’ve been. Through every step of this thing I’ve known what I’ve stood for and the reasoning behind my decisions. Yes, it’s been frustrating, I might even goes as far as to say maddening, but here’s the crux of the issue – I get a vote. As a woman that’s something that had to be earned. As an immigrant that’s something that had to be earned. Thus I don’t take it lightly. I consider it a duty.
You have that duty too. You get a vote. A vote many people had to fight and die for your right to have. Keep in mind there are millions of people around the world who don’t have that opportunity. Don’t take it for granted. Not voting is still voting. Not voting gives your vote to the majority. Don’t allow that to happen. Educate yourself and fight for your right to vote. Take responsibility for your country.
As far as tomorrow. At this point, you’ll have most likely made up your mind one way or the other. Nothing I say here will change that. So I won’t try. I won’t attempt to convince or cajole you. I will only offer you my hope.
I hope you chose optimism, love and acceptance over fear, hate and bigotry. I hope you chose the grander tapestry of every color, creed and nationality in this country over placing blame, anger and resentment on one group or religion. I hope you remember our future children and what they will see when they look back at this election. I hope you choose to leave them a legacy of inclusion and forward motion, not isolation and backpedaling. I hope you see the beauty of this country the way I do. I hope you choose to build, not tear down. I hope you choose the prospect of a brilliant future, not some delusion of a grander past.
Exercise your right. Let your voice be heard. Vote.
A woman, an immigrant, a survivor, a believer and a first-timer.
P.S – I’ll be on Twitter live tweeting election results etc from about 6 pm EST onwards, most likely drinking copious amounts of tequila at the same time. Feel free to join me @gracehatton