I was in eighth grade when politics first crossed my radar. The presidential election between Barack Obama and John McCain was just beginning to surface in my lunchtime conversations at school.
At home, I would tune into the debates while my mom was making dinner and I was inspired by the hope and optimism that Obama emanated when he spoke about the future. I wanted to be a part of it.
That October, my mother and I attended the National Women’s Leadership Forum in Chicago, hosted by “Women for Obama.” Among the guest speakers were Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama and Madeline Albright. Covering issues ranging from economic security to alternative energy to women’s healthcare, I admired the dedication, strength and poise of each and every woman in the room. The in-depth discussions made the election feel personal and brought to light important issues that would impact my future. While I was too young to cast a vote in the election, I hoped that I could help encourage others to do so.
At age 13, I was making phone calls to numerous states in order to spread the word and get voters out to the polls.
On Election Day, I remember taking that Tuesday off of school with my two best friends to hold up signs for Obama in Palo Alto, near where I grew up. While we got a few honks from our “honk if you love Obama” signs, we also got a few people flipping the bird. But we didn’t mind. We wanted to make a difference. At age 13, I was making phone calls to numerous states in order to spread the word and get voters out to the polls.
After watching the hourly updates on TV with my family, I was ecstatic when I found out that Obama was elected as the first African-American President of the United States. Similar to that feeling you get when your team wins the Super Bowl, I felt a personal connection, like I had been a part of something bigger.
Three months later, my family attended the Inauguration and witnessed history with our own eyes. As we stood on the National Mall awaiting the moment that the first black man would become President, I looked around and smiled at the visible optimism that radiated through the crowd. We were four in a million, but it felt like it was just us and Barack Obama. Americans from all over the country had gathered to witness history, some sitting on top of port-o-potties, others with their faces pressed up against fences, their eyes wide open. There was no shortage of tears. But these were tears of hope and joy.
We are in a good place right now and the only direction to move is forward, not backwards.
In the last eight years we have come so far but we have also fallen so short. On June 26th, 2015 gay marriage was legalized in the United States, but Donald Trump still discriminates; in a conversation with Fox News Sunday hosts, Trump shared that he would appoint Supreme Court justices who would overturn marriage equality.
On Feb. 3rd, 2016 Obama visited an American mosque, advocating for religious tolerance, but Donald Trump still deprecates people of other religious beliefs such as Khizr Khan who spoke during the Democratic National Convention in honor of his fallen son, Army Captain Humayun Khan who gave his life to fight for our country. In response to this emotional speech, Trump criticized Khan’s wife who remained silent in grief over her son’s tragic death, attributing her silence to her Islamic faith.
In this year’s election, the turning point for me was watching the Democratic National Convention and hearing personal anecdotes from the speakers that resonated with me such as Michelle Obama’s speech on how she raised two African-American girls in the White House and Eva Longoria’s moving speech where she called out Trump for ridiculing a disabled reporter because in doing so he is also mocking her special needs sister and all disabled Americans.
The combination of these voices really actualized Hillary Clinton’s slogan of “Stronger Together” because it exemplified the diversity that makes America so great. We are in a good place right now and the only direction to move is forward, not backwards. We don’t need to make America great again because America is already pretty great.
History is on the horizon, yet again. Eight years after participating in the Obama campaign, I am now of voting age and I feel an even stronger connection to this year’s election as a woman. In 2015, at my own college, USC elected both a female Student Body President and Vice President for the first time in a decade, renewing a sense of optimism among aspiring women leaders.
This election comes at a critically important time in our lives as college students. Now that we are of voting age, we have the capacity to shape the next four years of our lives.
On the national stage, Hillary Clinton evokes this same sense of optimism, both for young girls hoping to be president one day and for older generations of women who never even fathomed the idea that a woman could be president. Throughout his campaign, Trump has made numerous derogatory comments about women, calling them ‘fat pigs’, ‘dogs’, ‘slobs’, and ‘disgusting animals, which Megyn Kelly of Fox News brought up in an interview. We are far past this immaturity and ignorance America, it’s 2016.
This election comes at a critically important time in our lives as college students. Now that we are of voting age, we have the capacity to shape the next four years of our lives. While some of the issues at stake might seem far away and irrelevant to us, they will surely affect us four years from now as we are entering the workforce, starting families and creating the future for our generation and the next.
Like many millennials, I’ve found that most of my political news comes to me through Twitter updates, but the complexity of the issues at stake in this election go far beyond 140 characters. This presidential race is surely one of the most polarizing and one of the most important. Therefore I encourage my fellow college students to take the time to think long and hard about what we want our future to hold and who we want to represent our voices. Do we want an America that is united and “Stronger Together” or an America that perpetuates discrimination, name-calling, and bigotry? Don’t sit this election out, the future is in our hands.