Yesterday was my birthday. Yay me. I made it through another year and there are things I’m proud of in that year. I am one of the lucky Americans that still has a job. No health insurance. But I have a job and that’s something. We’ve been able to pay off some horrendous credit debt that developed because we were living in a red state (more on that another time–and for what it’s worth, I’ve lived in fanatical blue states, too and find them just as disagreeable). Our children haven’t had any major catastrophes, thank goodness. Only two of them have health insurance and their health insurance ties us down and does everything possible to keep us in the system (more on that another time). I appreciated all of the well wishes of family and friends. I’ve never been one to actually make a wish when I blew out the birthday candle. But this year, as I follow all of the news coming from both sides, dig into my own research on both candidates–their positions, their histories, their ideas–I find myself becoming almost frantic. And I ask myself: What were YOU doing during the 2000 election? The 2004 election?
I can forgive myself for not voting in the 2000 election. My youngest son was born in late ’99 with cerebral palsy during a birth trauma that very nearly killed us both. My older son was diagnosed three months later in early 2000 with autism. Our lives were changing so quickly and so completely that, to be completely honest with myself and with others, I really didn’t care much about the 2000 election. I had bigger things on my mind, or so I thought. I did care when that vote was so completely wrong and that was probably my first clue that things were not going to go as well during the first part of 2000 as they had during the 90s. This was my country, my America, and our precious democracy had fallen to corruption the likes of which I never thought possible here. Understand: I didn’t know much about either candidate at that time and was indifferent to the winner. But I can recognize cheating as well as anyone else and that election was a fraud.
I also did not vote in 2004. First, there was that whole 2000 election thing nagging at me, discouraging me. Second, I was unhappy with George W. Bush the very moment he used an American tragedy to pursue his own vendetta and pad his pocketbook and had no intention of casting a vote for him. But, I lived in a red state. Not just a red state, a RED state. And there was that whole electoral college system that keeps the popular vote–my vote–from really counting. There were coworkers badgering me daily because I refused to accept the teaching of the Bible in a public school classroom, mocking me in front of my students when the primary newspaper printed a photo of a very, very small group of people opposing teacher-led prayer in public schools at the Capitol, family members accusing me of anti-American sentiment because I opposed the Iraq war (even though I supported action in Afghanistan and actually tried to sign up for the military following 9/11), friends advising me to pray for my soul because I believe that faith and religion are two very, very different things and that our government and our country is founded on belief in freedom which includes freedom of religion. What exactly was the point in voting?
I was wrong. I was terribly, terribly wrong. In 2000, 51.3% of the voting age population turned out at the polls nationwide and 54.2% in the state where I lived. Even disregarding the blatant disenfranchisement of literally thousands of voters, the commonly accepted margin by which Al Gore lost is 543 votes. In 2004, 55.3% of the voting age population turned out at the polls nationwide and 62% in the state where I lived. I can’t help but wonder just how many people there are out there that felt the same way I did. And we just let them have the state, let them have the vote, let them have control over our lives and our children’s lives and everyone’s futures.
I will not repeat this mistake. I will not assume that I know what is going to happen in an election with or without my vote. I will not sit down and shut up, either. And I will be quite frank about where I am right now in my thoughts–if people do not exercise this one basic right that we all have, if people do not turn out at the polls and cast their vote, I fear that we may all lose that basic right and not even realize that it’s happening.
So as much as I want and need so many things for myself and for others, my birthday wish was more simple than that and arguably, more complicated. Please register. Please vote. What happens in the next four years will not be over in four years. Our children’s children will be living with our decision on November 4th. Of this, I haven’t the slightest doubt.