I must start off with my sincerest apologies. I have been very lax in my writing lately. This has been the longest spell of writer’s block that I’ve ever had. Nothing really has broken through. Until now. Last Tuesday’s election broke open the flood gates, so to speak. Since then, I have been writing notes, waiting for the time to be able to sit down and get them into some sort of printable order.
Election Day. It had me thinking of previous Election Days that I can remember. Full disclosure: Election Day is one of my favorite days of the year. It is a symbol of all that is America. Every four years we have a peaceful transfer of power, based (mostly) on the will of the people. There is no coup, no violent uprising, and that is what makes us great. Even if the candidate we wanted doesn’t make it into office, we are still a united nation working towards a common goal: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
I can barely remember the 1980 election. All I know is that Ronald Reagan won and a whole bunch of hostages were released. There were just hints of the story around the house. At that point, I really wasn’t into the news as I would be later.
Easily, 1984 was the first election that I can remember with any clarity. We did a mock election in Mrs. Cardone’s 5th grade classroom. We may have even tallied the rest of the classrooms at Washington Hunt for an overall school election result. I can tell you that Reagan pretty much took all the votes at the school, just like the real general election. Walter Mondale was barely uttered in our classrooms.
By the time the 1988 election rolled around, I was far more informed and was finally starting to form some of my own views on politics rather than simply following what my parents were saying. To be fair, neither my mother or my father seemed all that interested in what was going on. I’ve never known my Dad to vote, but he also doesn’t complain about the results. My mom votes now, but I don’t remember her going when I was still in school.
Anyway, in 1988, it came down to George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis. The biggest takeaways for my relative youthfulness from this campaign was Dukakis looking foolish on a tank and the Willie Horton story. That carried over again in our mock election at Emmet Belknap. For some reason, we did our voting during a Home Economics class rather than during Social Studies. This one was a bit closer in our classrooms than in reality. There were votes for Dukakis, more for him than Mondale four years prior, but not enough to sway an Emmet Belknap victory for George H.W. Bush.
The next election, in 1992, marked the first time I would be able to vote for President. President Bush was facing off against the Arkansas upstart, Bill Clinton. We didn’t get to talk much about it in school since the candidates were chosen after we had graduated. This one was all on us to educate ourselves and make our first decisions as voters. It marked a streak that lives to this day -- I have never voted for the winning candidate in a Presidential election.
Fastforwarding a few cycles, we come to the infamous 2000 election. This was the closest I ever came to voting for the winning candidate. I went back and forth on this one for quite awhile trying to decide who to vote for. In the end, I went with the most unscientific means to make a choice. Al Gore liked the Grateful Dead, he couldn’t be all that bad. George Bush seemed more like a country music fan. I couldn’t stand country music. So, I went with Gore. It was kind of a dumb reason to vote for someone, but when you’re young, sometimes make any excuse to do something. In addition, 2000 marked the last election that I voted on a major party line.
Now, my kids are in school. In 2012, my twins discussed a bit about the election when they came home from school. They were under the impression that only Barack Obama could be elected. I tried to explain how it worked, but they insisted that only President Obama could be President. I’m not sure where they got that idea.
This year, all the girls, even 6-year-old Josephine, were interested in the election. We went back and forth, considering all the candidates, even the third party ones. My kids were pretty adamant that they couldn’t care less for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. They were genuinely upset that their polling at North Park didn’t include Gary Johnson or Jill Stein as a choice. Wednesday morning they were surprised by the election results.
I think the biggest thing that I took from the experience was the feeling of being part of something when I cast my vote. Even as a kid, I felt proud. Now, as an adult, it gives me the same feeling, although the decisions seem to be getting more and more difficult to make. Sometimes it astounds me that more people are involved in the voting process. Many, I suppose, feel disenfranchised, especially here in New York where the outcome seems to simply be a formality.
I hope kids continue to be interested in the process. Right now, they certainly are, and I make such a big deal about that Tuesday in November that I’m sure they will. I sincerely hope that they will take it upon themselves to read and be educated before they make such an important decision. While I have my own views and I’m perfectly content to let them know how I feel, I firmly believe that each person must make their own decision. I will never tell you who to vote for, or who not to vote for. I cannot make that decision for anyone but myself.
After all this, despite my love for the democratic process, I’m so glad this election is over. I stayed up until 3AM waiting for news on who our new President would be. Every election day is important to me, not just the days we vote for President. Each and every race is another cog in the great wheel of the American democratic republic.
I think it is a very good exercise in Civics to have mock elections in the classroom. I remember quite well how exciting it was when I was a kid and was allowed to give my opinion on the state of the nation by placing a vote, even if it was only symbolic. How many of you did the same things in your school? Should it be allowed to continue?