Ok, so this is a bit hard for me to admit. The thing is, for the last 12 years, since 2006, I have not gone to vote.
Refusing to vote was my protest and my rebellion against a society in which I feel I have no voice. I justified myself with a "No Gods, No Masters" slogan, a seasoning of, "If the system is broken, then I'm not going to participate in it until it's fixed. There are no candidates for which I want to vote; therefore, I will not vote," and a dash of, "It's just a bunch of rich, crusty old white males anyways."
This past election, living abroad in Berlin, I became acutely aware of American politics in a new way. Whereas before, the media disgusted me, all the players were evil, playing an evil game in which I wanted no part; now, I had a whole new perspective and access to a wider angle of perspective and history. Furthermore, I had no choice.
Many Germans, as soon as they detected my American accent, immediately asked me the inevitable, "But, Trump??" question. A culture that has learned from its fascist past, the Germans, in my two-year experience of living there, are very quick to speak frankly about politics, something a 14-year-old student described to me as a conscious effort to remain informed in order not to repeat the past.
I found myself, for fear of seeming ill-informed and ignorant, wanting to be more informed. Not always particularly proud to be an American, I found myself getting involved in international political debates and enjoying them; I found the information interesting and I learned things about my own country that I wasn't taught in school, nor through the media. I read the constitution. I began following the news, all kinds of news, searching for the truth through all the biases. In this way, the Internet has been a blessing, a hive of information and, if I can keep my emotions in check, a good place to engage in debate and to share across borders.
After hearing enough of the negative critiques, many from people who have never been to America, I found myself wanting to believe in the American system. I found myself wanting to rejoin the fight, to stop acting as though all is lost, because it's not. Hidden deep behind the treasure troves of these misogynist, greedy, egocentric white males (and in a smaller proportion, females and POC, too) who control politics through lobbying, is the law and a system, one that still gives me the right and the privilege to participate.
Not yet ready to vote, I made myself available to help a friend register an absentee ballot for the 2016 election. When the results came, I spent the afternoon holding her, a California resident of Syrian descent, while she cried in my arms for fear of her family suffering as a result of the outcome. What could I say? She had thrown in her ballot; and she had lost. Now I stood on the sidelines to care for her wounds, but I should've been out on the battlefield, trying to make sure she didn't get hurt in the first place.
I began to see my own culpability as an American, with the right to vote in America, a country with a wide range of influence around the world. Even if it's a small degree of power, the vote is a degree of power and it's one that I need to exercise. I no longer have the right or the desire to hide in the shadows with my fingers in my ears, a petulant child rebelling against my omnipotent and controlling parents.
I will not continue to look the other way, while the President of the country of which I am a resident, continues to belittle women and People of Color, as well as throw away years of hard work for social justice and environmental protection as candidly as if he were picking numbers for the lottery. I will not ignore the detainment camps imprisoning families on American soil. I will not ignore my responsibility for American Foreign Policy, nor domestic issues such as Health Care and Welfare. This year, I will cast my vote for women, for the trans and queer communities, for POC, for justice, and for the environment and from this point forward, I won't stop.