I cannot express to you how thrilled I am that you took the time to vote this year in your first election. I don’t care – OK, I care less — about who you chose, but I do care a lot that you exercised your choice in the voting booth. Well done, baby girl! I hope your friends do the same.
Now that I’ve already secured the eye roll, let me tell you what you already know. We are thankfully nearing the end of an ultra-polarizing and, for the most part, unflattering portrayal of the electoral process. It was messy, sordid, and at times, it was unwatchable. Yet, it was our democracy in action where – get this – the check on all of it is you. You and your generation can actually demand better.
Regardless of how low we believe that we have been taken, the righteous frustration with how issues have been covered, the lack of accountability by some in the media, the candidates themselves, and the disgusting reactions of a few people who call themselves Americans, you need to take some comfort in the fact that many have lived through much worse. It is in remembrance to those who survived the worst that your choice to vote exemplifies the best that we have in our country.
When I say that it was much worse, it was. You already know that many people paid with their lives to secure for you the act of voting. A couple named Harry and Harriett Moore, both teachers, were killed by a firebomb after their work for the NAACP threatened the power of evil to dictate your destiny rather than entrust it to you through the ballot. They died fighting for people they would never know and for an inalienable right that today some treat with indifference. Given the high cost alone of this right paid by others, there can never be an excuse to “take the election off.”
Your grandparents lived in an America that neither of us can know and, in many ways, hopefully will never experience.
Sometimes we just glaze over the history. We say we know it, but I can tell you that I rarely think of those who paid so dearly by name, or embrace their humanity as real people who had real families. They were entitled to a better future that they never realized. Their dream was for us to live it. I realize now that it wasn’t just the hate that killed them. There was, and remains among some, the perverse belief that they were “less” American and not worthy to be entrusted with the true “blessings of liberty.” Some still pay lip service to the Preamble you memorized as a toddler, even though they refuse to take the very same Constitution to heart that they carry around in their breast pocket.
Your grandparents lived in an America that neither of us can know and, in many ways, hopefully will never experience. While they have shared some of that America with you, on this election eve, reflect on the scars they still carry with them, know that we moved forward not by accident but by deliberate action, and understand that indifference can set us all back. Most importantly, rejoice that they are still alive to see you exercise a right that they marched for and to renew with you a hope that they still so fervently believe.
My hope as a father is that you emerge from this election cycle excited about the opportunities you now have with: increased access to information, as long as you seek it rather than being passively comfortable to take what is given to you; choices among candidates who represent all races, genders, religions and backgrounds, despite how afraid some still might be of them; and hopefully, a better understanding of the systemic issues that threaten equality and freedom for your children one day, even if that is a long, long way from now.
Today, the people who want to influence and control you use distractions and constant appeals to entertainment as weapons much more than they use force, and it is up to you and others like you to carry on our nation’s progress by not falling for the sleight of hand that longs for the mythical best of yesterday.
Whether we act with indifference or compassion is a result of how well we embrace the duty to take responsibility for the type of country that we want. Voting is an important way of both recognizing our nation’s imperfections and actually committing ourselves to improving it. This responsibility to do both is what has made and kept this country as the greatest on Earth.
When I hear the gripes about choices between “bad candidates,” I’m glad that you realized that the central tenant of adulthood is embracing the necessity of understanding and acting in both an imperfect and complex world. Despite the endless cycles of breaking news, the decision to vote for what’s best is not the stuff of reality television, and it will carry with it real ramifications for real people in this country and in the rest of the world for decades.
I love the fact that you are curious. It will serve you well. Know, however, that there are those who will openly scorn both that and your intellect. Hopefully, your generation will embrace both as tools to fix the many things that my generation has broken. Sorry about that.
As you near the completion of college, here are a couple of tips. If you encounter people who trivialize your concerns, discount your questions and utilize slogan over reason, please ignore them. Instead, embrace the belief that you are entitled to try and make a difference in your world. It is as much yours as anyone’s and thus, you have a vested obligation to explore and understand it through your faith, history, books, the arts, and by mostly by living your life on your own thoughtful terms. As you might say, “haters gon’ hate,” which is reason alone to do it.
I am glad that you voted. I hope your friends vote too.
PS – You are now responsible for ensuring your brother does the same when he is ready.