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  • Writer's pictureDr. Tré Watkins

Election Day




The first election I can vividly recall was the race of 1996.  The players in the game were the incumbent Bill Clinton, a well-polished, smooth-talking Southern lawyer; Bob Dole, some old, angry-looking politician who didn’t appear to care for any of the public eye; and a wildly eccentric Texas Billionaire Ross Perot, who’s probably remembered more for his large ears and high pitched voice than for his progressive policies.  I knew nothing about Clinton’s policies, his continuance of the War on Drugs, or his predatory behavior toward women. He was a Democrat who played the saxophone, enough to earn my pre-teen support.  


I vividly remember the buildup to the 2000 election—another Bush vs. Vice President Al Gore.  Although not cool at all, Clinton was cool, and Gore was his boy, so that was the logical choice.  My AP US History teacher taught us about the Electoral College, we had mock debates over the current issues, and he even told us about the Curse of Tecumseh. This ancient tale damned all Presidents elected in years that are divisible by 20.  So, I knew the importance of each vote, the candidates’ platforms, and that whoever won would die because of the curse.  What I didn’t realize was that an election could be stolen. That a political party and well-connected political family could collude to rob American citizens of selecting their commander-in-chief.  I didn’t know about voter disenfranchisement, gerrymandering, or even how Florida state legislators could determine the outcome of a national election. 


For many, elections are viewed from a top-down perspective, focusing on prominent races at the national level, with interest and enthusiasm subsiding through state and local campaigns. Most people cannot name their state senators or members of Congress or clearly articulate the ins and outs of ballot measures.  I say this not to condemn the general public but to stress how backward our educational system is in preparing its students to become engaged citizens.  We must be better equipped to make informed decisions on issues affecting our daily lives.  I have a theory that this is by design, using evidence of historical and contemporary disenfranchisement efforts aimed at African Americans and any other population viewed by the powers as dispensable.  Regardless, these details are overlooked or omitted in addressing the importance of exercising one’s American right to vote.  Instead, we are told that our ancestors fought for this right or that this election is the most important one of our lifetime, which, in a vacuum, are accurate statements.  But politics in real life is much more complicated and messy.  Urging people to vote without adequately equipping them with the information and, more importantly, the confidence to make informed decisions is akin to sending them off on a treasure hunt without a map. Likewise, pretending that voting is the end all, be all to unlocking the American democracy is simply put, played out.  


On the eve of the upcoming mid-term elections, one that could see both the House and Senate shift hands and as many as three Black Governors elected into office, I remember my experience two years ago when I finally understood and felt like my vote mattered.  No, I wasn’t thrilled about the Presidential election.  Voting for Trump was not an option, and putting another Clinton into office just didn’t sit right, but it was the only viable choice. For the first time, I was voting for every office and measure that I was allowed to vote for because an 80-something-year-old activist took the time to sit with me and a group of community members and break down every race. She didn’t lecture us on the importance of voting or ask about our voting history. She shared information about each candidate or proposition and informed us of what effects a yes or no vote had on each one.  That was a transformational experience for me and completely changed the paradigm through which I view politics.  All politics is personal.  The decisions we make tomorrow will affect our experience and the lives of many others we will never interact with.  We must not simply vote but make the best-informed decisions for communities. No shame should be cast on those who choose not to participate in the electoral process.  Instead, all energy should be focused on raising awareness and supporting people in making their own decisions, whether that be to cast a vote or not.  


Voting is an essential, highly complex tool that can shape our society.  If not adequately understood or underutilized, voting can be weaponized against the public. But, just like any other tool, it can destroy failed systems and erect new and improved structures if used correctly and precisely.  We can induce change tomorrow through national, state, and local measures.  I am voting because it is my right and because I am well-equipped to utilize the powerful tool afforded to me. Looking back on the mid-term elections in 2018, we can view this as the cycle that shifted the narrative of electoral politics from apathy to empowerment.  Empowerment of the people, all of us.  




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