A letter to my 15 year old sister, for 2020
Madison, I wanted to send you a note.
By the time the next presidential election comes around, you will be old enough to vote. You were old enough to follow pieces of what was going on in this past election, but I don’t think old enough yet to grasp all of the nuances. That’s not to say you’re not intelligent. You are extremely sharp and inquisitive, and you ask the tough questions, which is amazing. I’m simply saying you’re not yet old enough because it has taken me 3 election cycles, 9 years, to just begin to grasp and internalize what these decisions mean, why people make the decisions they do, how our system works, and why it often doesn’t work.
I’m experiencing a lot of mixed emotions at the moment, and I’m still trying to process what happened earlier this morning, but I feel it’s important to address something with you while it’s still fresh and relevant in your mind. This is something I believe to be extremely important and so fundamental to creating a successful democracy in the future that truly represents the needs and desires of its people. This couldn’t wait.
You asked me yesterday who I voted for.
I was about to respond, but I paused. Why did I pause? And why did I never respond later? It wasn’t because I was scared of what mom and dad might say, or because I wasn’t proud of the decision I made (I was, and still am). It was because I feel an individual’s vote is something sacred and personal. It is something uniquely your own, and not something that needs to be shared with anyone. We vote in private booths, for a reason. Voter intimidation is illegal, for a reason. We do not hold public assemblies (at least not in the general election), for a reason.
This reason is because your vote is your own. It is uniquely yours, and it is only up to you to decide what to do with it. You can use it to make a statement. You can use it to support something you deeply believe in, or oppose something you deeply disagree with. You can use it to place a bet on a gamble with the future, or place your faith in a known quantity. Whatever you do, make sure you do it for your own personal reasons and for a purpose. Don’t throw it away. Don’t toss it out without thinking through why you’re placing that vote. Don’t place your vote for someone else. Don’t use your vote to appease someone else’s beliefs or desires. Know your reasons. Know your options. Above all else, please, please be thoughtful.
Don’t ever feel pressured into voting for someone or something you do not truly believe in, because at the end of the day, you are the only person standing in that booth. No one else.
Your vote is not a trophy to be paraded around in public to receive applause from your friends or colleagues. It is not an appeasement to placate someone who would look down on you or think less of you because you hold beliefs that are different than their own. And it is most definitely not something to throw away without thinking.
It is not just your responsibility to vote, but even more importantly it is your responsibility to vote intelligently. Take the time to learn about your options. Don’t just listen to the press or your friends’ opinions on the issues. Don’t rely on celebrity endorsements/rantings or snapchat filters to form your own opinion. Don’t take each candidate’s word for it. Take time to do your own research. Find different sources. Dig deep. Get into the weeds. Investigate. Because, regardless of where you live and if your vote “counts” or not, your vote does count. It counts because you have to live with it. You can’t go back and edit your vote. Your vote doesn’t disappear after 8 seconds. Your vote doesn’t just get lost in the cloud of shit swirling around on the Internet. Your vote is permanent, and it is and should be considered part of your identity. It is a brick laid in the road our country follows in the future. So, make sure you vote for something you truly, deeply believe in. Something you can stand by, that you can sleep with.
When you can’t figure out what you believe in, think more. Take more time to process. Think through how you would feel after placing your vote if your candidate or policy were successful. What emotions would you feel? Why? If your candidate wins, can you live with the consequences? Do you know what those consequences would be? If you can’t answer those questions, you haven’t been thoughtful enough. Dig deeper.
Now, I think if we lived in a world where we, as the general public, were able to hold productive conversations about controversial topics with people that hold beliefs different to our own, it would be fine to share your vote with others. If we could share our vote and know others would treat it with respect and know that it would lead to a productive discussion about different beliefs, my what a wonderful world that would be. Unfortunately though, that is not the world we live in. Despite that fact, we have to at least try to change this. Those conversations will be hard, they will be painful, but we have to start having them. We have to try to form those links and bonds, to build those bridges. If we don’t try, this will never get better.
We live in a world where people don’t do their own research. They don’t form their own opinions. They read the headlines and pretend to know the content. They listen to their friends then regurgitate the position they hear to the next person they talk to because they want to sound informed (the position which, by the way, was originally formed by the press in the first place). We live in a world of group-think. And this is what, to me, has been the most frightening aspect of this entire election. I’m the first to admit that I have done this before. We have all been guilty of this at one point or another, but we must become hyper aware of this and fight against this every chance we get. In order for a democracy to work successfully, its participants must educate themselves on the topics and must internalize and be willing to live with their choices. Sadly, this does not happen enough, and because of this, I implore you to be ready for the next election.
Think about who you are. What you believe in. What’s important to you. Then, when our next set of candidates come to the podium, spend the time to get to know not just them, but more importantly their policies, their past actions and their plans for the future. Learn everything you can so you can form your own opinion. Engage with people that hold different viewpoints than your own. Don’t just engage with them as they come to you, actively seek them out, because chances are, you’re living in a bubble. Have a real, open, understanding dialogue. Keep an open mind. Don’t degrade the conversation to focus on the personal traits, the wardrobe, or the likeability of a candidate. Don’t focus on the things the press will focus on and tell you are important. Don’t write off a candidate as a joke or a person as a goon/idiot/[insert insult here] for having a viewpoint different than your own. Truly engage and try to understand what the opposition believes, try to understand why they believe what they believe, and try to understand how that relates to your own beliefs. This will not only help prevent you from being blindsided by the results, but will enable you to form healthy relationships with the “opposition” to create unity rather than division, in the situation that your candidate of choice does not win.
I end this by imploring you again, when it comes time for you to vote in 2020, please be thoughtful. Be open, be honest to yourself, and dedicate the time you need to make an informed decision. Engage with the opposition, and don’t expect or even attempt to ensure others agree with you and your beliefs. Focus on getting to the point where you feel confident and content with your decision, whatever the end result, because we are fortunate. Fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to cast a vote. Fortunate enough to have access to information to make better decisions. Fortunate enough to have the opportunity to use our free time to educate ourselves on what is important.
Don’t waste it. Don’t throw it away. Make it your own.
I love you.