Last night after I left work, I drove back to Corpus Christi from Houston. I’m currently working in Houston (temporarily, though hopefully that will change soon) and until I get a permanent position and Houston address, I’m registered to vote at my permanent address in Corpus, which has been home since 2003. This morning, I went to vote in my first presidential election.
I was not able to vote for president until 2008, when I was 21. That year, I was in undergrad at Texas A&M University. I called Corpus, managed to get my ballot by mail, and voted in the primary. I got busy and lost track of deadlines and was unable to do so for the general election. I missed out. I promised this year would be different. So, here I am.
I got to the polling place shortly after 7am because I did not want to wait in line all day. There were not too many of us there, but the line quickly grew longer and louder. I looked around and saw complete strangers chatting, exchanging opinions, laughing. I thought to myself, “This? This is the America I believe in.” There were people of different races, colors, ages. Black, brown, white, old, young, middle aged. There were three different languages being spoken in the line that I could hear. There were about 100 people peacefully in line to change leadership of our city, county, state, and country. Suddenly, I found myself blinking back tears.
Americans have a history of apathy when it comes to voting. We feel like we don’t matter. We feel like the candidates are just the lesser of many evils. We take for granted that this is how things work. We take for granted that the polls will be open. We know there will be problems with machines and ballots, but we also know that our polls are safe. We feel like politics in this country is a lost cause, a big machine rolling over us the way a tractor wheel would roll over a frog on the highway, crushing us under its weight. Yet: the way we feel is not always the way things are.
We have the power to change things, no matter what anyone says. We live in a country where we are given the chance to fire the people in charge. We can vote out our representatives, we can vote out our mayors and city councilmen, and we can vote out our senators. In Texas, we can fire judges and sheriffs and district attorneys. We can vote in people we feel will be different, will do better. There is always a lot of talk about money – who raises it, who has it, who doesn’t have it, who needs it. Money will buy TV spots and billboards and banners and stickers. Money will buy sponsors and dinners and flyers. Money cannot – should not – buy our conscience. We are free to do what we feel is right. The question becomes: will we? I hope so. I know that to do so, we need to vote.
Vote because you love your country. Vote because you believe in its future. Vote because you still have hope. Vote because you haven’t given in, given out, or given up. Vote because when the times are tough, Americans are tougher. Vote because you still believe that about us. Vote because you love your community. Vote because you believe it can change. Vote because you know it makes a difference. It makes a difference to you, to your family, and to how you feel about this country and where you live. Vote because it gives you a stake that no one can take away. Vote because it gives you power when there are those who would make you feel powerless.
Will your vote matter? Probably not, if you define “matter” as the deciding vote in a presidential election. I encourage you not to define “matter” that way. Will your vote push a candidate or proposition over the line? I can’t tell you. I can tell you that your vote is guaranteed not to matter if it doesn’t exist. There are statistics and studies and grad students dedicated to putting a number on just how much your vote does or does not matter. I encourage you not to let anyone, anyone, tell you that you do not matter. You matter. Your vote matters. This election matters.
I left the polling place this morning encouraged and excited about what awaits us, for better or worse. I want you to have that feeling too. End our history of apathy. Be the America you believe in. Vote.