January 20, 2009 marked a special day in my life. It was my grandmother’s 85th birthday, which meant it was a celebration of life, love, and the idea of moving forward in time. Appropriately, her birthday coincided with the date of President Obama’s first inauguration. My family celebrated both. In fact, we threw a party to celebrate the amazing feats that took place that day.
My grandmother, born in Vienna, Louisiana in 1924, was a strong, loving, and dedicated mother of two Black children. Never in her 85 years of life had she ever really imagined she would see herself reflected in the President of the United States of America, but the time had come.
This is my earliest memory of politics—I was only 12 years old. I hardly remember Obama’s campaign, nor do I really remember the night of his election. What I do remember, however, is the pride felt in my family the day of his inauguration. It was a big deal; it was important and it was historic.
Never in her 85 years of life had she ever really imagined she would see herself reflected in the President of the United States of America, but the time had come.
Fast forward to now: I’m 19, a declared Politics major at Oberlin College, and am eagerly awaiting the opportunity to cast my ballot in my first presidential election.
I recognize that many who looked like me never had the opportunity to cast a ballot, and many more had to fight through poll taxes, literacy tests, and other egregious forms of intimidation to exercise a privilege owed to them as citizens of the United States. Not voting would be a disgrace to those who paved the way.
I continue to view life through the lens of values instilled by my grandmother. Values such as charity, humility, service, and a love for those weathering the challenges of life ultimately guide me. Setting foundational values is imperative to making sense of today’s political climate, but acting on those values is the practical, real step in moving from theory to practice. For me, the idea of waging love, as packed with egalitarian and idealistic visions as it is, is the highest value from which to judge in this election.
Donald Trump does not wage love, and is utterly unfit for the White House.
He goes as far as asking Black voters “What the hell do you have to lose?” by voting for him. In my opinion? A lot.
I could go on and on about why Donald Trump should never step foot near The White House. He’s proven time and time again that he’s anti-Muslim, xenophobic, racist, and simply lacking the moral fitness that the office of the president deserves. He goes as far as asking Black voters “What the hell do you have to lose?” by voting for him. In my opinion? A lot.
And there is, objectively, a lot at stake in this election. The Voting Rights Act has been stripped of crucial protections, making historically marginalized people potentially susceptible to widespread attempts of voter suppression. The future of the Supreme Court is uncertain. The Affordable Care Act, even after surviving repeated attempts at destruction, is facing refreshed threats of repeal. Political polarization is ever increasing, and people are focused more on each other and political affiliations rather than the issues at stake.
The highly discriminatory rhetoric of Donald Trump and the spirit of petulance that has cast a shadow over this election leaves some with little hope for the future of American politics. For many, including myself, this is not the case. Alongside other students from around the country, I continue to focus on the issues at stake with initiatives such as #CollegeDebate16, as we push issues such as healthcare, education, and poverty to be recognized by the presidential candidates.
As I prepare to vote in my first presidential election, I’m choosing to wage love with everything I’ve got.
Hanging in my dorm room is a print. In it, you can see a Black woman in a voting booth with a child, presumably her young son. He’s holding a sign that says “Yes I Can.” My mother bought me this piece after President Obama’s victory in 2008, and its impact has only now begun to dawn on me. Back then, I was that little boy, eagerly watching as what was once thought of as nothing more than an unattainable dream transformed into a stark, beautiful reality. Now it’s my turn to step into the booth, still believing in the truth of “Yes I Can.” I can, and I will. I must.
I truly believe, as so eloquently iterated by Dr. Martin Luther, King Jr., that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. As I prepare to vote in my first presidential election, I’m choosing to wage love with everything I’ve got.
Hopefully I’ll be able to reflect that on my ballot.