I didn’t have time to watch the DNC and RNC in real-time when both conferences were televised. I was busy catching up on sleep, among other mom life things. However, I have been taking some time to watch the different speeches from the conventions on YouTube. It was while watching Senator Kamala Harris’ speech that I realized I now have two adult children who are able to vote in this year’s presidential election. Wow! How amazing is that?
Elijah is already registered to vote. He is very determined to make his vote count so throughout the year he has been taking steps to stay informed on the candidates running for office and the issues that are important to him. This summer he made sure to check on his voter’s registration and he submitted his mail-in ballot application (also known as the absent voter ballot application). I’m really proud of Elijah for staying aware of our country’s political and social issues.
I remember when he was eight-years-old and I took him and Michala to a debate watch-party in Downtown Nashville at the Bicentennial Park. The debate was between then Senator Barack Obama and the late Senator John McCain for the 2008 Presidential Election.
The city had been buzzing for days about the second presidential debate being in Nashville. There were many watch-parties held throughout the city. At the time, we were living in Nashville so I made plans for us to go to a watch-party. We were so excited to be at the debate party. I even took the kids to watch President Obama’s motorcade leaving Belmont University. I remember thinking I wanted the kids to remember this historical moment when a Black man was so close to winning the presidential election.
And now they’re both old enough to vote.
A couple of weeks ago, I talked with Michala about getting registered to vote. She felt a little hesitant about voting because she said she found politics to be confusing and “they fight a lot,” she told me. I explained to her things can get messy during an election year so I could see why she would think that.
I explained to Michala even though politics can be confusing, it’s still important we exercise our right to vote. “Even though women have had the right to vote for 100 years,” I said to her, “when you look at that time frame in comparison to how long men have been voting, that’s really not a long time. And even then, many Black women still were not able to vote.”
I told her there’s a long history in our country of Black people’s right to vote being suppressed. There were many people like activists Shirley Chisolm, Ella Baker, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the late Rep. John Lewis who fought hard for our right to vote. I told Michala when we vote, we are honoring them and all of the work they did for us.
I also explained to Michala it’s not just the presidential election that is important. Whenever we have elections for our state and local government, it is vital that we vote in these elections, too. “We have to also pay attention to our state and local government,” I said, “and make our voice heard in these elections, too, because it can have a great impact on social justice issues that are important to us.”
“Think of all of the issues that are important to you. I suggest making a list of those issues that you value and then as you research the candidates, you can see who supports the issues that matter most to you.”
I then explained to Michala she needs to vote for the candidates who she thinks are a good fit for the office they are running for. “Don’t vote for a candidate just because that’s who I’m voting for or a friend is voting for,” I said. “Vote for someone who YOU think is the right choice.”
This week, I’m helping Michala with her voter registration and I’m showing her how to research the candidates who are running for state and local government offices. It’s also helping me become more familiar with other candidates. When I took a peek at the sample ballot for my county, I noticed there are names on the ballot that I don’t even recognize. This is partly because we haven’t been living in Michigan very long, but I’m definitely going to make sure I know who I am voting for in the state and local election, too!
While talking with Michala about voting, it reminded me of President Obama’s Medium article he wrote over the summer. He wrote the piece in response to George Floyd’s murder and the protests that were happening across the country.
In Obama’s article, he shared how we can help make “real change” with ongoing problems of systemic racism and unequal justice. He reminded readers it’s important that we also vote in our state and local elections because our vote can have a great impact on making effective changes in “our criminal justice system and police practices.”
“Unfortunately, voter turnout in these local races is usually pitifully low, especially among young people — which makes no sense given the direct impact these offices have on social justice issues, not to mention the fact that who wins and who loses those seats is often determined by just a few thousand, or even a few hundred, votes.”— Former President Barack Obama
I shared Obama’s points with Michala, too, and I told her that one way we can make a difference in our city, state, and the country is by voting. I hope our talk encouraged her to start thinking about issues and values that are important to her. I know thinking about politics and social justice matters can be confusing and overwhelming. Even at my age, I often feel this way. But I just wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t talk to Michala about the importance of voting and taking action to better understand events and issues that are happening in our world.
Please encourage your older children to get registered to vote! If they’re already registered to vote, then encourage them to check on their voter registration just in case. I double-checked my voter registration a few weeks ago here. You can also click on the sample ballot to see which candidates are running in your state and local elections.
And share with your kids, no matter what their age is, why voting is important to YOU! The youth vote is crucial, and our kids need to hear from us why we also value our right to vote.
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Feature image March on Washington 1963, courtesy of the NAACP. All other photos are courtesy of Jennifer Hamra for Good Life Detroit.