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.