My earliest memory of civic engagement was entering the voting booth with my mom. My town had the old-fashioned voting machines, long before digital things permeated every part of our lives. You went in, closed the curtain, and clicked off your selected candidates. Then, the most exciting part happened, at least according to my young mind. You pulled the giant lever, which both registered your vote and flung open the curtain. Of course, my mom let me do that part.
What strikes me the most now is that I don’t remember voting as boring or something my parents did out of civic duty. I remember it as exciting and fun. Goodness knows there are few adults who think of it that way.
Besides showing my tendency towards being intensely wonky at a young age, I think these experiences set the foundation for my involvement and interest in local and national policy. Unlike some people who are into politics, I’m not all that interested in the individual candidates or parties. Their back-and-forth games frustrate me more than anything else. Rather, I’m deeply invested in the issues, whether they’re as local as our Bikeway Master Plan or as national as the Keystone XL Pipeline. Seeing involvement in politics as something genuinely enjoyable rather than a burden started me down this path. Now, it’s something I need to remember when I struggle with setbacks and disappointment. I could certainly stand to gain back some of my youthful innocence around the subject.
To both his and my sake, that’s why I’m bringing my son to the polls with me tonight, even though he already went with my husband. I want him to see me not only fulfill my duty, but also my pride in doing so. Even without the mighty metal lever to pull, I want him to experience a bit of that excitement. (Hopefully, I can figure out how to let him touch the screen without messing up my vote.) By participating in the process as early as possible, I hope it becomes not just a lifelong habit, but a role he embraces as a citizen of our community, our country and our world.