Why the Privilege of Voting Makes Me Emotional

Voting-booths-1970When I think about voting in this country, I am almost always flooded with memories. As children, my brother and I were always brought into those old metal voting booths with our parents. If my father was at work when my mother went to vote, both my brother and I crammed into the booth with her. Waiting in line for our turn to enter, I would wish for an army green booth over an industrial metal one because their mossy color and chipped paint indicated a sense of history to me. As a young child, it was with great anticipation that I wondered, will this be the election that I would be deemed old enough and strong enough to be the one to heave the big lever from one side to the other, drawing the curtain closed behind us? Was it my turn to encapsulate us in this tiny button filled room where we would assist our mother in taking part in her most basic civic duty? The sounds of that booth still ring in my ears. How the feeling of the buttons, triggers and levers filled me with joy and the overhead lighting, there simply as a necessity, aptly providing the ambiance an imagination like mine yearned for. A lover of buttons, once ensconced in the enclosure, I often pressed too many, leaving my mother to bat clean up.  Ever the teacher, there was an clear explanation of each vote chosen, before my mother pulled the lever casting her final vote.

W199I fully recognize that I grew up privileged in so many ways, and not lacking in several others. One of the biggest privileges I’ve had was to be exposed to my family and my extended family’s sense of civic duty. There are people who died for us to have the right to vote, and people who continue to die protecting that right. Many would also argue that there’s a deep grey space in between. The right to vote, and the need to do so as the most informed person as possible, was regularly discussed in the car, while doing homework and across the dinner table.  Privilege.  Duty.

Selma 2As an adult, I find myself living in a beautifully mixed neighborhood with people from all different backgrounds and similarly varied futures. The thing I find in common with so many of my neighbors is a deep sense of respect, curiosity and kindness toward one another. For better or worse, the routine of voting has been undeniably modernized, but the visceral sensations and the sense of community remain intact for me. I now walk through the doors of the polling location and find myself grateful for the community members who volunteer their time to ensure that all goes well. I review my votes in my head, inevitably to be surprised by one option on the ballot. I approach the table and watch as the poll worker search for “Kevins” instead of  “Keevins”, just as they did all of those years prior with my parents. We chuckle together as they find my name. I vote. I’m handed my congratulatory sticker. I leave the local school hallway where I vote, feeling proud and knowing secretly that I have truly done the bare minimum.

election post picture 2And then, as usual, a wave comes over me. Is it rigged? Will my vote make a difference? Hope can I be of more use? How lucky I am to live in a country where women can vote? Democracy. What a gift.  Frankly, my feelings are mixed. But as I see other members of my community walking beneath the autumn trees toward the polling station, it’s hard not to be touched by a sense of warmth. In Brooklyn, a place that is home to the old and the young, a rainbow of skin colors, diversity of sexual orientation and identification,  different religions and a dichotomy of wealth and education, people come out to vote. But out of all of these people, the one’s that touch me the most? The children. As they place their chaperone’s ballots in the scanners, they are creating their own vital memory. They will be the ones who take on this civic duty and will likely determine the quality of society during my golden years.  Watching these children helps to keep hope alive.

Thank you to my parents and my extended family for the values that they have instilled and the lessons that they have taught my brother and I.  And thank you to the current caregivers who are teaching the next generation how important it is to partake in our government.  This November, I look forward to going to the polls.

You can register to vote or confirm your registration at 

https://www.usa.gov/register-to-vote

     Jean Marie Keevins was raised on Long Island by a family that was predominantly pro-union, pro-choice and pro-education.  Thanks to the encouragement of diplomatic conversation by the adults in her life, who goodness knows, did not always agree, Jean Marie is eager to hear all sides, even when she doesn’t like what she hears. (Mostly… We’re all human).  

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