My First Time
I've been thinking back, oh so far back to 1972, the first time I was able to vote. It wasn't just me, but every person under the age of 21 was, for the very first time, able to vote due to the 26th Amendment to the Constitution. Yup, I got to vote for the first time after the voting age was just lowered. It was such a memorable occasion, so exciting and empowering.
It was a blue blue sky Colorado day. I was senior at the University of Colorado in Boulder. The mountains loomed high against the campus. The university buildings gleamed pink in the sunshine. Another glorious fall day in Boulder. Another beautiful day at the Italian Retirement Home for Wayward Hippies. I walked over to my polling place on the Hill with several friends. We were all voting for the first time, and had discussed over and over again how psyched we were and how priviledged we felt, because we were the first young voters. We didn't know how much of a change the votes of so many college aged kids would make, but this was during Watergate and the winding down of the Vietnam War, so we were feeling the power glory. We were voters!
The candidates were Richard Nixon, running for a second term as the Republican candidate, and George McGovern as the Democratic candidate. It was obvious to everyone that was voting that Nixon was going to win, but nobody knew what a landslide it would become.
Locally, Gary Hart was running McGovern's campaign, and Tim Wirth was running for our state representative. I worked as a volunteer for both the McGovern and Wirth campaigns. Floyd Haskell was the Republican candidate for Senator, but he was against the war and was very popular with liberals. He was married to Nina Totenberg of NPR.
We had to wait in line before entering the polling place. Lots of students were in line and the atmosphere was one of excitement, the kind of excitement you have before you enter a concert or sporting event. We could hardly wait to get into the building.
Finally my time came. The ballot was one of those voting machines where you pull the lever and the curtain closes and all the little levers reset. I can remember panicking that I wouldn't pull the right levers and I'd end up voting for Nixon. A fate worse than death for this died in the wool liberal. I check and rechecked the levers several times before I left the booth. Pulling open the curtain and hearing the clack of my vote being registered was stunning. I could barely catch my breath. I had done it. I had voted.
OK, McGovern lost by the biggest landslide ever seen. 49 or the 50 states went for Nixon. I bet those people felt really stupid a year later when he resigned in shame over Watergate. But I hated him and felt proud that I was one of the few that never supported him or voted for him.
As I'm typing this I'm watching Eyes on the Prize on PBS and they're doing the episode on disenfranchisement of the black voters. All these people wanted to do is exercise their right to vote. It seems so simple. So how come so many people seem proud of the fact that they don't vote, that they don't read newspapers or listen to the news, that they are ignorant and throw away the privilege of voting like it's trash. I don't get it. Voting is how you make your voice heard.
If you don't vote, don't ever complain about how shitty your healthcare is, or your schools are, or how bridges are falling apart and streets are unpaved, how your siblings and neighbors are going off to Iraq to die, how your civil rights are being eroded by a corrupt regime, and how your country is falling apart due to money being funnelled to private corporations like Halliburton instead of to health clinics and universities. It's YOUR FAULT. Because if you don't vote, you allow corruption and greed to become the government.
So take responsibility for your families, for your community, for your friends and your country. VOTE.
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