I walked into the booth made up of foldable room dividers and glanced at the piece of paper in front of me. I was in first grade, participating in a mock 2008 presidential election. I checked the box next to Barack Obama without hesitation, and skipped away without even reading John McCain’s name. I recognized Obama instantly after weeks of asking, “Dad, who should I vote for at school?” and he would reply with a simple point to President Obama’s face on the TV. No more questions, no more explanations. I was six and could not even comprehend how to put my hair in a ponytail correctly, let alone political parties.
Now, twelve years later, I’m about to vote for the first time. Instead of “voting” with 100 young children, this time, my vote will be considered along with millions of other Americans exercising their rights along with me.
Twelve years later, I am a seventeen-year-old woman creating my own opinions and ideas, choosing a candidate whom I feel genuinely passionate about and believe in their plans and policies.
Twelve years after what I thought was my first time voting, I will be voting for the first time in the centennial year anniversary of Women’s Suffrage.
Four years ago, I was a different person, and America was a different place for me. I did not pay attention to politics until the 2016 election. We talked about the primary election every once in a while in history class. Still, in essence, the only political information I knew well came from my opinionated father and his passion for democratic socialism. At school, my proclamations like “Bernie is the shit” were met with awkward stares and indifference from my classmates. They seemed to be less informed, or maybe just less interested in the election than I was. The truth is, now I realize most people in my conservative Christian grammar school would not have agreed with me anyways.
By the time of the general election, I had started my freshman year of high school. Political discussions between my friends and I increased. As our knowledge of politics grew, so too did my desire to do my own research and better understand where I stood.
As I stand in a similar place now, politically, as I did four years ago, I have a better understanding of our political climate. I know my political beliefs are impacted immensely by the way I was raised. My father taught me to fight for those who do not have as much as others, while he was a single father raising me on government-funded health insurance. I was raised to believe everyone should have the chance to go to college, despite their socioeconomic status or background.
I was raised to use my platform to share my opinions because I matter. We matter.
As part of the youth in this country, I have seen a cultural shift as I’ve grown up, and we are scared. America is not the red, white, and blue dream we believed so easily as children, but a country that prioritizes money over humanity. It is easy to ignore these truths as children, but it leaves us with harsh introductions to the real world.
We need to teach the youth about politics. We need to show the youth the importance of voting. We need to give future generations hope for success that does not include having to sacrifice moral values for societal ideas of success.
My first time voting, I am voting in an election that will directly impact the future of the United States. I am voting because it does matter. I am voting, not because we live where every vote counts, but because generations of women have fought for my fundamental rights.
I happen to be voting where my vote will not count as much as every other American. Though, I am still voting for myself and my future. I am voting for the future of immigrants, the lower-class, women, and people of color. I am voting for a candidate that I have to based on fear for our country, fear rooted from hatred and marginalizations.
Some may call us the “technology” generation, and some may call us the “lazy” generation. Despite how you view the youth of this country, we are also the generation that will have to fix it or continue to lead it down the dark path it’s currently headed. As we prepare to take on the world of student debt and a massive climate crisis, for me, it will be a bittersweet first time voting.
Featured Artwork by Franziska Barczyk