I am 35 years old, and I voted for the first time this year. That means, despite being eligible, I let the elections in 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016 pass without casting my vote. Of course, I cringe thinking about it now, but I forgive myself, too. I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
I grew up immersed in Evangelical Christianity. The adults in my life probably discussed politics occasionally, but not with me. The only issue anyone ever addressed with me was abortion, and at that time, it was presented as selfish, callous murder. If I was not in support of “brutally murdering innocent babies,” then I’d just vote for the pro-life (Republican) candidate.
I was just shy of twenty on election day in 2004. I had no interest in politics, and at that time in my life, not caring felt like an option for me. To me, the presidency felt like something I should just let the real grown-ups decide—and I certainly did not feel like a real grown-up. I didn’t understand the issues or even how to formulate my own opinions about them. I let the election pass without a single thought.
By 2008, I had started thinking for myself, leaving behind a lot of the ideals of the church and its leaders. I knew I would not be voting for another Republican president without understanding why. My heart had softened on the idea of abortion, understanding that I could be against it for myself but in support of keeping it safe and legal. Unfortunately, my husband and I were still attending the church he grew up in. They were our whole community. There was an understanding that everyone would be voting McCain/Palin. They even called special prayer meetings in an attempt to convince God himself sway the election. (One million yikes. What the heck.) My husband voted for President Obama in this election, figuring he would just lie if anyone asked. I didn’t feel like I could lie, so I didn’t vote at all.
In 2012, I was nine months pregnant, and by that point I was just embarrassed. How could I walk into my voting location and tell them I didn’t know what the heck I was doing? I’d been eligible to vote in two previous elections. Again, my husband voted, and I sat it out. I breathed a sigh of relief when President Obama won a second term.
Between 2012 and 2016, I lived a lot of life. I had my first two children. I gently removed myself from the religion of my upbringing, retaining my belief in God but untethering myself from the way people had presented religion to me. My family found an inclusive way to worship, making room for more people in my idea of heaven. I made LGBTQIA+ friends for the first time in my life. My dad came out and married his husband during this time. I opened my eyes to the reality of racial inequity, examining all the ways I benefitted from white supremacy.
I realized during this time that choosing not to care about politics is a privilege not afforded to everyone. Once I understood how complacent I’d been, I couldn’t continue to sit on a throne of my own privilege refusing to see how everyone is connected.
Honestly, that all sounds like progress or personal growth or whatever, but don’t give me any credit. The actual reality of it is just that I just finally grew up, stopped being so selfish, and started paying attention to the world around me outside my own personal sphere of comfort.
Despite all of my changed thoughts, feelings and opinions, in 2016, I STILL did not prioritize voting. Part of it was because I knew Tennessee was going to Trump no matter what I did. I’m outnumbered here, and I let that knowledge defeat me.
But another big piece of the puzzle was misplaced confidence. I just didn’t think I needed to vote that year. I was ignorant. When I saw that our choices for President were a former First Lady whose career in politics included serving as both a Senator and Secretary of State or Donald Freaking Trump (WTF?), I didn’t really think my vote was super necessary. Madam President seemed like the only logical outcome of that election. I thought I would witness history, even if I didn’t participate in creating it.
Well, as we all know, I was wrong. Somehow, we ended up with Trump as president. And even though my single vote would not have changed the outcome, I have spent four years wishing my vote was among the more than three million that outnumbered Donald Trump’s in the popular vote.
This year, I gave birth to my last child, a little girl. I failed to set a good example for her brothers in 2016, but that doesn’t mean I have to fail all three of them now. It’s not too late for me to show my children what it means to be responsible and use your voice.
During the first week of early voting, my husband and I loaded up our three children and stood in line to cast our votes. With a smile on my face and a tear rolling down my cheek, I stood with my daughter and voted for a woman to hold the second highest office in this nation. I voted in a way that I hope will provide protection and peace of mind to the people in my life who haven’t felt safe under our current administration. I voted so she could see that women can do absolutely anything.
We don’t know what’s going to happen on election day 2020. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are imperfect people with imperfect records, but I believe they will work hard for the things that matter to me.I’m crossing my fingers for Biden/Harris to win this one, but I’m not arrogant enough to think they have it in the bag. A lot of people still inexplicably support Donald Trump.
When I pushed that button, I felt a sense of peace and belonging that I haven’t felt before.
No matter what happens, I finally did my part.
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