In 2000, I had my first taste of the democratic voting process. I was in the 6th grade at Public School 9 in Brooklyn, N.Y., and we were learning about how the voting process works by watching and reporting the presidential race between Al Gore and George W. Bush. We did lots of research on their platforms, policies and backgrounds. It was so exciting to see the process in action. By unanimous vote, Al Gore was my class’ pick for president. In our eyes, he couldn’t lose; logic and fairy-tale endings were on his side. Boy, were we in for a rude awakening from our dream of American democracy.
Somehow, George W. Bush became our 43rd President of the United States. I felt so betrayed by the people who actually voted. But I was only 11. “Maybe they know something I don’t,” I reasoned. By the time I was 15, I was disillusioned and just accepted that the “majority” was a group of self-righteous idiots and considered moving to another country as soon as I possibly could. I no longer believed that democracy was really worth anything because it seemed to me that people had no say. I felt it was an unfair system, and it was the job of the people to fight it, rallying in the streets and protesting the law we saw as inherently unfair. We were just rebellious teenagers asserting our voice and expressing our teen angst.
But then, by the time I reached the voting age of 18, something magical happened. Something never seen before; something I expected to happen perhaps by the time I reached my father’s age: A woman, Hillary Clinton, and a black guy, Barack Obama, were running for the presidency. For me, Barack Obama was a sign of hope, that 1% chance of affecting positive change that was desperately needed. He was an inspiration, reminding us to fight for what was right even if the odds were against us, even if it was painful, even if it looks impossible to everyone else.
Today, I know that the political process is just one necessary step in the process of progress and producing effective change that we want to see. As citizens, it’s our responsibility to hold the government accountable. I know there are people who think voting doesn’t mean anything because the system is flawed or that they don’t need to because they’re active in their communities and they do more than the government has ever done. But the people who put Bush in the White House are voting. It’s possible, even if we think the odds are against us, to be heard and be properly represented by politicians who have a vested interest in serving us. Obama is a clear example of that. The way he works is a reminder that it takes time, passion, and work to effect change. It’s not just a one time thing.