By Leah S. Abrams
“Wow. Most people don’t register on their birthday.”
That was the remark by the pleased city clerk who handled my voter registration when I turned eighteen. The primary had passed, but I’d be eligible to vote that fall in the Presidential election, for a candidate I’d early on written off as a yahoo who sounded like a TV evangelist. In my freshman dorm room, six months later, I wept joyously as that candidate – one Bill Clinton – claimed victory to a favorite Fleetwood Mac tune, replacing the first President Bush, whose election had inspired in me other kinds of tears and an all-black outfit (and I was not the cool Goth chick).
My university campus, back in 1992, set up voter registration tables throughout the early fall, though I can’t say they were pushy in the way I’m reassured they’re being this time out. Maybe, back then, it was already clear that I’m part of “Generation Apathetic” and so no one dared count on us for anything.
I remember the shock of learning that my roommate / oldest friend / best college bud had not registered prior to school starting, having quite forgotten that she’d have been in the midst of moving into our cramped dorm room right around her birthday and was thus away from our hometown’s city hall and just a wee bit preoccupied. Wanna-be-lawyer that I was back then, I suspect I made an unnecessary argument to her about the importance of playing our role in Democracy, about the fact that our gender had been “given” the vote after my grandfather and her grandmother were already born, about how it took until just a decade before we were born to get a voting rights act passed. We visited one of the tables, if only to shut me up.
Funny. That memory of my own and my dear friend’s registrations are so much more vivid somehow than of casting our first vote. I’ve not thought much about those early days in some time, especially because I’d eventually go on to fourteen years of San Francisco Bay Area voting where you need a college credit course at every cycle to make sense of the countless ballot initiatives, blotting out all other voting memories. I’ve been thinking back on those early days lately as a result of making various get-out-the-vote calls.
I recently spoke with a man, older than I am, who confessed to me that he had never voted, had never even registered. Until now. He didn’t require prompting to tell me that he felt it was pointless, that all politicians are alike – out for themselves and not about doing anything at all for the people they represent, that his vote doesn’t even seem to count. We talked about my own similar discouragement. So, why, he wondered, do I bother? And he wanted genuinely to hear this response because, after all, something had already inspired him to be a first-time registrant.
To his point that all politicians are the same, I was in a prime spot as I was calling on behalf of a senatorial candidate who spent over twenty years in the military and, later in life, became a minister. Here, I easily argued, was someone who represented everything he – the caller – and I are all about: community service. And, I noted, there are others, including so-called career politicians, who are of the same ilk, and that we just have to be willing to find and focus on them.
As to why, in my frustration with a system so unbearably broken, I bother at all? That’s an easy one as it has always been – it’s my voice. Countless people who came before me fought and died so that those of us who are not land-owning white men have that voice forced into being heard. If I don’t cast that vote, I am complacent.
The man on the phone was interested. He registered as a Republican because it’s what he’s always assumed he is, but he is fed up and can’t believe Trump is the President. Here, I saw an opening: “The Republican party is one I no longer recognize,” I offered.
And that is true. When, in 2018, Carl Bernstein spoke at Symphony Space, he dashed any of my remaining hope that the rest of the Republican party would come to their senses, explaining to us that things had been very different with Watergate because it was Nixon’s own party members who helped bring things down and that it is now too polarized, too much of a cult – my word, not his.
When, after a long chat about retiring to rural living, neighbors taking care of each other, mandatory civil service work for all citizens, and the like, it was time for me to end our call, the man on the other end thanked me and told me that he was going to visit the senatorial candidate’s web site to read more about his policies and background. Finally, and this made every hang-up and agitator worth the call-making, he said that, while he’d registered Republican, if he does end up voting – which was now more likely – he may well end up voting the Democratic ticket.
I did not actually tell the man to vote for a particular party. In fact, I’ve sincerely told people who shout at me that they’re not voting for my candidate that I’m just glad they’re voting at all. And that is the truth. If you want to voice your complaints with our mess of a government, go right on and do it, but only if you go to the polls, only if you take that simplest action of weighing in, no matter which way you lean politically.
Do I wonder where your head is at if you support the current administration? Absolutely. But this isn’t a blog about whether Americans or the human species at large deserve to continue existing if this is the behavior they endorse; it’s a single message blog to tell you to, please, get out and vote!