I need to remind you of a day: November 8th, 2000, the day after the presidential election and the beginning of the Florida recount and the Infamous Hanging Chad. I was too young to vote at the time but old enough to pay attention to the news, and watch George W. Bush elected President of the United States under the most dubious, questionable circumstances. That president, born and bred to assume that position would one day be his – a legacy hire, for lack of a better term – in just his first four years walked us into a war that seemingly never ends, established Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp, and launched ICE and Homeland Security. During that first term, I came of age to vote, marched proudly to the polls with the buoyant spirit of someone full of faith that they would be jettisoning a spoiled, infantile, dangerous brat from our office, and woke up the next day to find he had been reelected. This was my first voting experience, and I was crushed. The following four years brought the gross mismanagement of Hurricane Katrina, and queued the entire country up for the beginning of the Great Recession. The man was reelected because of hate, greed, and, most prominently, fear-mongering, and it was with great, swelling pride that I watched Barack Obama win our presidency in 2008. I remember thinking to myself, we have finally defeated the child.
What is my point? We’ve been here before. There is now another criminal holding this office, this one filled with such grotesque greed and spouting unprecedented subterfuge to the same scared, entitled, gullible base of citizens that elected Bush. On Tuesday, millions of Americans will go to the polls for the midterm elections, and those of us with any sense will vote left down the ticket to try to re-balance the scales against the most damaging and violent administration that we have seen in decades. We’re not doing it because it will make Wednesday any different. Some of our candidates will still lose. But if we do this right, a lot of them will win. And a lot of them will make a difference for us in 2020 and beyond. Some of them will be able to protect the local rights of the people who need protection urgently, at this very moment. But they can’t do any of that if we don’t show up.
The picture on the left above is my grandfather. He was a child of immigrants, and joined the army when he graduated high school to serve in WWII in the Rainbow Division, a segregated unit for young men of color. He was not drafted, he chose to serve, at a time when his rights and his safety in this country were largely predicated on what region and street he was on. Please also remember that freedom from random and mandatory service in the armed forces is only an invention of the last few decades in our country. There was a time when Young Men With Promise could be plucked from their families and lives at random to be shot at, and often killed, in the name of liberty, and it took decades of protesting and showing up and voting to tip the scales in the favor of their freedom before that was no longer a reality. Inch by inch, over years and years. When football players take a knee during the national anthem to bring awareness to racism and police brutality, they honor the 800,000 Americans that have lost their lives at battle in the name of defending American freedom. Part of that freedom is your right to vote representatives into office.
Black men gained the right to vote in 1870, and we are still seeing widespread gerrymandering in an effort to decrease the value of the black vote in our country 150 years later. Women only won the right to vote less than 100 years ago after a 75 year long campaign, and black women in some southern states were not effectively allowed to vote until as late as the year 1960.
All of those basic rights were hard-won and fought for over long, arduous, often disappointing campaigns where many of those fighting died before they ever saw their rights realized, but they kept showing up to move the bar inch by inch, step by step, knowing that a better future was ahead.
Your. Vote. Matters.
The picture above on the right is the great-granddaughter of the man on the left, better known as my five year old. She has known no prejudice, no restriction of her rights, no war, no food shortages. She knows what voting is because she came with me to vote in 2016, and was rewarded with a sticker. She had just turned three, she had just lost her father, and as I walked into the voting booth with her tiny hand in mine I truly did not believe people would be so stupid as to elect Donald Trump to public office. I also didn’t think people would be so careless as to pout over Bernie Sanders losing the Democratic primaries and decide to refrain from voting entirely. To exist in that level of privilege feels foreign to me, and almost sickening. To abstain from voting simply because you do not like the bipartisan system of The Lesser of Two Evils is a farce. If you don’t like the system, vote for someone who will change it. But whatever you do: vote.
Your. Vote. Matters.
My daughter will be eligible to vote in the year 2031, and I am already bracing myself for how I will explain the remainder of the damage this administration will do to humans, the earth, to our souls. One day pretty soon she will cover this period in American history as a time when we took children from their families and sometimes lost them or never gave them back, that we put asylum-seekers in cages, that we tried to strip LGBTQ citizens of their rights and identities, that we elected a sociopathic lying criminal to our highest representative office. That, for a certain period of time, our leadership did not feel it necessary to aim for the role of Leader of the Free World, a role that has been sought after by so many presidents for so many decades. That for this period of time, our leadership was content to make us appear the weakest we have ever looked.
Both of these people are part of the reason I vote, and both of them will be on my mind in the booth on Tuesday.
When we studied the Holocaust in school, the most common question that we were asked was a predictable one: if this were happening in your time, what would you have done? It’s been about 20 years since I’ve been asked this question and now feels like a good time to think about it for a minute. There is a caravan of asylum seekers headed for our border right now to escape certain death, and our president wants to shoot at them. In Park Slope last week the neighborhood woke up to a bunch of swastikas spray-painted on public and religious properties. I actually passed a swastika in the train station near my office in Greenpoint. A white man tried to enter a black church in Kentucky last week, and, failing to find entry, drove to a neighboring grocery store to kill other black people. Our president wants to define Transgender out of existence.
Your. Vote. Matters.
Whatever we are doing now is what we would be doing then. Voting does not need to be a sappy love letter to any candidate. I have come to terms with the fact that I may never feel again the way I felt voting for Barack Obama for the first time in 2008. A vote is a game of chess, a bet on the long run, a plan for the future, another step on the long march to making this country the kind of free we envision. You don’t have to like it, and guess what: when you wake up on Wednesday, nothing will be fundamentally different about our current state of affairs, or at least nothing perceptible. We will have to wake up on Wednesday and keep fighting, the same way everyone, historically, has fought for you. The one, small but incredibly mighty difference that you can make on Tuesday is to let this administration know that you are watching, you are showing up, and you will vote them out. Again and again and again.
Your. Vote. Matters.