The first time I voted was 1968.
I had just started college, the Vietnam War loomed large, flower power was blossoming, and the world was watching.
RFK and Martin Luther King had been assassinated. Hippies and Yippies demonstrated. Hey Jude, Mrs. Robinson, and Born to be Wild were among many songs that lit up the psychedelic sky. The presidential election had become a battleground between: Humphrey, Nixon, and Wallace.
But today, the most important memory is that of my father taking me with him to vote on almost every occasion that I can remember before I ever was old enough to vote.
“America is about being free, being free to pick and choose, and being free to vote.” He’d take me by the shoulders. “It’s our duty to vote.”
I felt his excitement as he spoke about how we needed to make wise choices. You have to learn the issues, he’d tell me, study the candidates, and know what they really stand for.
“Read newspapers and listen to the television,” he’d explain. “Then try to figure out who you think is the best candidate.” He refused to tell me who he was voting for because he didn’t want to influence my ability to think for myself.
In so many countries, including the ones that my grandparents had come from, people could not vote. Dad marveled at how great it was that Americans had the ability to choose their leaders.
Each time I went with him to vote, I watched the adults in their overcoats, standing in line, looking somber, but having this remarkable aura about them. I could sense the importance of what they were doing. These memories are intoned in shades of grey, as I watched my father pull the curtains of the voting booth around him, his cuffed pants showing under the pleats of the curtains, and my pulling the curtains apart to rush inside the booth to watch as he punched through papers, selecting people that he hoped would represent us well. He pulled the curtain open when he was finished, winking at me to let me know that he had done his duty, and we could now go home.
Voting is really about my father.
1968 was only the backdrop. What my father taught me and what he stood for was what was really important.
Americans, come here from all over the world, seeking freedom, and endorse that freedom by practicing a cherished right, the right to vote, whole-heartedly and freely. May God bless my father, and all others like him, and bless this country, for what has been given us: love, respect, and the freedom to choose.
My father always voted, and when he would come back we always ask, “Dad who did you vote for?” He would always say “We have a right to a secret ballot, and I exercise that right.” I never did find out who he voted for.
But truth be known, as I got older I understood his politics and his reactions, and ultimately knew how he voted.
The other thing he always said was “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.
A quick review of that expression via a net search and WIKI shows that expression being attributed by Evelyn Beatrice Hall in her biography of Voltaire.
Was she your father? Friends with your father? Or was dad just well read? (kidding, of course)
My father always said to me, “I may not always agree with what you say, but I’ll defend my right to punish you for saying it.”
Moving even more afield here – this is the basis of our Freedom of Speech ideal and the basis for the ACLU.
He was an English teacher for eighth grade.
Sounds like something Voltaire would have said. Haven’t read him much, but did read Candide.
Sometimes it seems like the ACLU silences speech as much as it frees it.
How wonderful that he was an English teacher, and he must have had the patience of a saint for 8th grade.
Voltaire didn’t say it, Evelyn Beatrice Hall said it (According to Wiki) in describing Voltaire’s beliefs.
And please hep me to understand that you mean when you write, “the ACLU silences speech as much as it frees it”?
freedom of religion, political correctness, in which words and actions are determined equal.
Still not sure what you’re meaning.
Are you saying that because of the ACLU’s stances that we try to think, speak and act in more “politically correct” ways?
And that this hampers our freedom of speech or constrains us in our speech?
If so, is this a “bad” thing?
My folks always taught me to think before I speak, “engage brain, before engaging mouth.”
(I hated that!)
But as adults we have to ask ourselves how is what I am going to say going to affect the person hearing it?
The “N” word is no longer politically correct. And rightfully it should not be a part of our speech. I’m not sure how much of any of this has to do with the ACLU (because if you were arrested for saying the “N” word , they would probably defend your right to say it as part of your right of free speech)
Beautifully written. A loving tribute to your father!
You were blessed with a wise father. He raised a good son. Well done.
Yes he was. Thank you. I am blessed and grateful.
Randy, thanks so much for taking the time to share your story with us. I really try hard to teach my children to think for themselves. They are not an extension of me or my thoughts. I will often learn the thoughts of both parties so that if they ask questions I can answer as unbiased as possible. I want them to know it is an honor and privilege to vote. They have the right to both vote and think. I am so happy that your father taught you the importance of this.
Thanks for your comments.
As for our kids…I keep drilling into them to vote but, unfortunately, all four of them seem pretty cynical about our government – which I understand and I hate and I do everything I can to counter and I am so perplexed and at a loss about.
“It doesn’t change anything.” “Don’t get yourself upset over it. They’re gonna do what they want anyways.”
I want to just scream but I go over how history has demonstrated that change does happen through anti-trust laws, child protection laws, what social security did for this country, what the labor movement was about, how unjust wars are affected by public opinion and action…
They have been part of seeing the importance of local politics which we(my wife and I) have had a little involvement with, and how it too affects lives and the good (as well as bad) it does. For example, down to getting streets paved and holes filled (not just the ones in my head).
I voted this year already. I don’t always vote, but I have for the last few elections, ones I felt really really mattered. Unfortunately I struggle with the same cynicism as your children. Even my husband, who first voted in 1972, isn’t voting this year. He’s too disgusted by the way politics are played at the expense of the working man. No matter who we vote for, Congress and the House can contradict everything the President tries to do. Most people only vote for the president, not their representatives. That is where our educational system is sorely lacking, explaining the importance of voting for ALL your reps, not just the President.
I’m convinced that my vote is just an empty notion, carrying none of the importance it once had, yet this year I had to try, even though I’m not really sure it makes a difference.
Your vote does matter.
Bush beat Gore in Florida in 2004 by supposedly only 543 votes in Florida
In my town, councilmen are elected sometimes by as little as 32 votes – only 2400 people vote out of a town of 90,000!!!!!
It always makes a difference. And spending even one hour a month in some political activity makes a diffrenmcve – whether it’s through your church, attending a town council meeting, attending a democratic or republican party meeting, the ACLU, the NAACP, the League of Women’s Voters, and so on. One hour only- and you’ll feel proud of yourself. I guarantee it or your money back!