Today I am Proud
By Kortnee With-a-K
(Photos NOT my own)
I’m proud to be an American but today I am especially proud. Having been raised as a Girl Scout in a family that valued our freedoms, I’ve always been patriotic. I grew up singing, “This Land is your Land” in the back seat of a Vega on epic summer road trips to National Parks. My parents taught me that our National Anthem is for singing and that litter is meant to be picked up by whoever sees it first. I cherish the freedoms I have as an American citizen and I can only hope that I am passing these values along to my own daughters in the way their grandparents taught them to me.
Today I am proud because I voted. Today I am proud that I have the right to vote. Today I am proud that I exercised my right. We Americans are “all-about” exercising our rights. We cite our right to free speech and our right to go worship the God of our choosing while carrying our guns in the purses that we had a right to buy with the money we had a right to earn with our personal right for the pursuit of happiness. But the often ignored right we have as Americans to select our own government officials is something truly special. People born in so many other places aren’t so fortunate. Many people across the globe live under dictators in tyrannical governments in countries where genocide and oppression are the norm. While I won’t deny that we have plenty to complain about here at home, most of our issues are but a pebble in an ocean compared to the troubles in other nations.
Voting is a hard won right for humans such as myself. Most likely, there were challenges for your own “brand” of human being too. Unless you are a property-owning-fully-grown white male, the right to vote was hard earned. Unlike our free speech and free religion that were gifted to us by our forefathers, this was one right that had to be won. Whether your skin is black, brown, yellow, or red; whether your religion of choice is Judaism or Buddhism; or whether you were born with estrogen racing through your veins; your own right to vote today didn’t come easily. Our country’s history is full of true adventures of real-life superheroes determined to secure this liberty for each of us today. People whose names were never written in history books were crusaders leading each of us toward the voting booth. So many facts in these battles have been lost to seemingly more important stories in the pages of antiquity, but each of us should know the stories of those who crusaded for us personally. Abigail Adams and Susan B Anthony fought for my own right to vote as a woman. To them, my hat is off today. Who are your heroes? Do you even know their names?
Did you know that women’s suffrage lasted 72 long years before women were given the right to vote? Did you know that Mexican Americans who fought for Texas were denied the right to vote? Did you know that Native Americans were considered foreigners and therefore couldn’t vote? African Americans, referred to at that time as “freed slaves”, could not vote. Black and Asian GI’s returning from war couldn’t vote. Poll taxes prevented poor folks from voting and literacy requirements made it impossible for the uneducated to have a voice. Did you know that Latino citizens and Asian citizens were banned from voting longer than African Americans were? Even after the rules began to change, countless people were the victims of lynching and violence that prevented minorities from voting. Did you know that these things have gone on right here in our own country as recently as fifty years ago? Did you know there is controversy over our voting rights still today?
Today I am proud to live in a country that elected a man to our highest office that might have been murdered on his way to the polls just fifty years ago. While we still have progress to make and issues to address, this is something we as Americans should join together and celebrate. Sadly, many would rather focus on our differences than stand up and cheer at our progress. Personally, my biggest complaint about our President is that his Vice President is called Joe and not Josephine.
This is a long overdue concept in a country that calls itself a leader on the world stage. Twenty other countries are ahead of us in this realm. Yes, twenty. From Argentina and Australia to Trinidad and Tobago, estrogen rules. The people in places like Costa Rica and Jamaica all the way to Germany and India have recognized the talents of their female presidents. Switzerland pioneers the globe with five female presidencies. (How strange that our own uppity haberdashers hide their money in her banks while refusing to back a female candidate at home.) But time will march on as the women and blacks did in the 60’s and 70’s. Progress will come soon for America in this matter too and we will cheer when someone savvy called Victoria Garcia takes her oath of office in 2016.
For now, my votes for women will have to be put to use on a local level. Plenty of candidates for local and state races are full of candidates of all colors, creeds, and genders. Hence, being a proud voter isn’t enough. It is important that we know the issues and understand what each candidate represents no matter how we might identify with them at first glance. One could argue that being an informed voter might be even more important than simply voting. Proper and careful research is necessary to wade through the bog of ignorant ideas, fanatical Facebook posts, misleading messages, puzzling political cartoons, party propaganda, and hapless headlines.
Today I am proud to live in a time when it is so easy to get answers. Never before in history have voters had such massive opportunities to get information. A voter today must have an open-mind and must be willing to learn. Before going to cast my ballot at early voting, I sat down with my laptop and did a little research. A quick trip to my county website gave me a peek at the ballot for my precinct. Numerous reliable sites give unbiased looks at each candidate and fact checking details. It took some thought and a willingness to change my mind now and then, but it was worth it. Besides, I learned what a Railroad Commissioner does, and frankly, I was surprised. Who knew?
When I went to vote, my heart filled with patriotism. Looking around the room at all the people in line made me smile. I saw brown women, I saw black men, and of course there were plenty of property owning middle-aged males too. They made me smile too. I know that I may not agree with every person standing in that line but it is an honor to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with fellow Americans who value the rights that have been won for us. Our differences don’t matter in this space. We are the melting pot united in a celebration of being American and our desire to share our differences at the polls. It’s almost as special as the Fourth of July. If everyone in that place had gotten into conversations, surely there would’ve been disparities and challenges. But there is beauty in OUR RIGHT to disagree peacefully. Today I am proud to be in a place where nobody has to burn a flag or throw a hand grenade simply to make a point.
As I waited my turn, one of the voting attendants suddenly called out and waved her arms, shouting, “FIRST TIME VOTER!” Every one of us broke into applause and cheered for a young man who blushed and grinned as he signed the roster. He was proud of himself and every one of us was proud of him too. I remember the first time I voted. We all should remember that day and we all should wonder why anyone would ever abandon their voting right. But clearly many people do not vote and many Americans never even got started. Come to think of it, where were all this kid’s friends? There were not enough 18 year olds in there. There were not enough women in there and there were not enough Latinos and black people either.
Where is 50% of America when it comes time to vote? Are they on vacation? Are they REALY too busy? Is it just too difficult to get registered? Why are they staying home? Is standing in line once every four years just too much of a bother? Maybe they genuinely trust the rest of us to decide for them? Or are they simply that apathetic. Excuses can be made, but few are defensible. Voting is more convenient and easier than it has ever been. Early voting and absentee ballots are one of the greatest conveniences of modern society. It’s right up there with ATM’s, GPS, pay-at-the-pump and paperless billing.
Somebody died so each of us could vote. Each vote cast not only affects our future as a nation, but is also an acknowledgement of what we have grown and become as individuals, groups, and citizens of the United States of America. Perhaps we ignore our right to vote because it isn’t a day-to-day issue. Perhaps we don’t vote because we feel ineffectual or that the outcome won’t matter anyway. Perhaps we just don’t think enough about the importance of our basic human rights. Perhaps we don’t believe that we can make a difference with our one vote.
But like the ripples of a pebble thrown into the ocean, one tiny vote has impact beyond what we can ever see or know. It matters. It becomes our history. It becomes our reality and it can change the world. It has, it does, and it will. Today I am proud. I voted.