After months of commercials, debates, yard-ads, and mail outs, our presidential election is upon us. This past week in my college classes I urged all of my students to get out and vote. I told them that this was not the first time in our history that a good choice was not clear and that most citizens felt confused and irritated beyond belief. We had a class discussion about all of the mud-slinging and dishonesty and it appears that most students are simply so sick of the process they have no desire to vote. Some “quit watching months ago,” while others don’t feel that they can make a difference with their vote. It is sad to watch the apathy surrounding a basic freedom that so many take for granted. I don’t really blame the students as they are inundated hourly with “breaking news” and determining what is true and forthcoming is as difficult as walking through a field of concealed land mines. No wonder the voting process is not at the top of their list.
I remember my first time to vote. I was away at college. I turned 18 on October 24, 1976. The election that year was on November 2. My high school years had been filled with the news of the Watergate scandal and the resignation of President Richard Nixon. Over the next few years, many men would go to prison for their involvement in the scandal and in the fall of 1974 the situation seemed dire for America. By the time I turned 18, two short years later, we had celebrated the Bicentennial of our country, Nadia Comaneci scored a perfect 10.0 in the summer Olympics, John Denver was crooning to sell-out crowds, and Queen Elizabeth II sent out the first royal email, from the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment.
The email sent from the Queen was NOT common place. The electronic age was coming but most of us were largely unaware of the changes it would bring to our way of life. We continued to rely on radio, television, books, movies, and audio tapes. Monty Python and the Holy Grail was all the rage, Steve Jobs was just establishing Apple from his parents’ garage, I was allowed to use the phone in the kitchen if I wanted to talk to someone, AND I was going to vote in November!
I knew who the candidates were. The current President, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, the former governor of Georgia. To say I was an informed voter would be a joke. I had two main concerns that year: playing on the basketball team and playing drums in the marching band. I was away from home for the first time, had used up most of my money within the first few weeks of college, didn’t have a car or a phone, and was not even sure where to go to vote. But vote I did.
At the ripe age of eighteen and a few weeks, I knew that I would vote and that it made a difference if I did. I had been taught from a very early age that it was my right as an American citizen and I felt very strongly about it. I had watched my parents vote after their workday was over. Their voting site was an elementary school just down the street and I can remember walking there with them. I thought it was so cool that we could go into the school building at night and that all of the teachers were gone! My parents set the example and I have voted in every election since the fall of 1976 and I plan to continue to vote each and every election.
This election year, I know exactly where to go and I am a more informed voter than I was at 18 years of age. Things are still scary and intense and I don’t know from day to day which candidate will be the best for our country. About the time I decide that it is not worth it, and my vote won’t count, I think about all of the men and women who fought for our freedoms. My dad fought in WWII. My father-in-law fought in Korea. My brother fought in Vietnam. My oldest son fought in Iraq. My younger son is still serving in the US Marines.
When we can’t be bothered to vote we are telling them, and all of the others who fought, that their work was for nothing, that we don’t need that particular freedom. Women, especially should be cognizant of the difficulties of gaining the vote. To give that up because I am tired of mud-slinging, or because I don’t like either candidate is unacceptable to me.
I am still tucked away in college. This time I am the professor and I am still as excited as that 18 year old was in November of 1976.
I get to vote!