If you had asked me in 2016 if I knew anything about voting, I would have probably told you that it was an important part of our democracy, and you should by all means take advantage of the opportunity to do so. I knew nothing compared to what I know now. Yet, I was always interested and was always hungry to learn more. Growing up, I always felt like I had this slight advantage on what I knew about the world over most of my friends because my parents worked as political journalists. Their discussions and arguments over the dinner table became a buffet of information I ate up over the years. In high school you might have been able to find me “reading” the newspaper, acting all high and mighty as I carried around the often torn apart arts section and front page of The New York Times. Was I actually reading the newspaper? Absolutely not. Like most people, I got my news online. I still do, although I am a huge sucker for Will Shortz and his crosswords. Over the past two years, however, civic engagement and voting in particular has become a major part of who I am and what I find valuable. You may have seen me on Instagram telling you to vote, explaining issues, or answering questions about registering. In fact, since 2018, I’ve had a site bookmarked on my phone that tells me exactly how far away the next election is, whether that’s the midterm elections or the Presidential one, so that I’m always aware of what comes next. While this is a path I did eventually choose to follow in college, it’s not the path I envisioned four years ago.
The absolute truth is that I became more civically engaged because, as a first year college student, I developed major crushes on politically engaged college boys. If you think I’m joking, I can happily show you my “on repeat” playlist on Spotify, which still shows “All Too Well” by Taylor Swift as one of my most listened to songs. All jokes aside, it is absolutely true I started paying more attention because I liked a couple of very loud and very informed guys, and as a graduate of an all-girls catholic high school, I had no game. Zero. I hadn’t even had my first kiss! So, with no experience and a souvenir plaid skirt, I found myself learning more and more about the world around me in a deeper sense than I ever had before. And while yes, the conversations I started having with boys I met at parties or in class became more interesting and less nerve wracking, I started to notice how much work I had to do to really become informed. Regardless of the discussions at my dinner table growing up, and despite me carrying around the New York Times all through high school, no one had ever sat me down and explained what tools I would need to participate in our democracy. The college didn’t give me this information, there was no class teaching me and no part of my freshman year was carved out to walk me through anything. No one was teaching me how to register to vote or what issues to look out for. Instead, I found this information all on my own, and not even originally for the sake of involvement, but for the hopes of my single room in Hilliard Hall not feeling so lonely at night. …Also I really wanted to pay homage to Britney Spears (get it, school skirt??). While my freshman year wasn’t exactly “Hit me baby one more time” like I had hoped, I did do a lot of “Work Bitch”!
I started by learning that there are different voting regulations in every state! Early voting isn’t always offered; there are different rules and laws about IDing someone at the polls. The voters who are being oppressed are our fellow citizens in our Black and Brown communities. On top of that, the summer after my freshman year was the summer the Trump administration separated migrant children from their families, causing one of the most racist and largest ongoing political crises I have ever witnessed in my lifetime. Suddenly, I was out in the streets protesting, realizing that the only way to make real change is by taking a real stand, using my voice, and using my vote. It was time to say goodbye to Britney and college boys, and hello to Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come”. When I came back to school that August, I was suddenly “Are-you-registered-to-vote-Agnes”. I started my now traditional Instagram countdown to election day, registered people all over campus, and rejoiced on Election night in 2018 when I watched the democrats take back the House of Representatives and elect the most amount of women ever to Congress ever in our history. Did any of this help me find love? No! In fact, I got my heart broken during this whole process! But once you’re in it, you’re in it, and I couldn’t unsee the information I had learned and the reality of our country’s situation. So ,I’ve just kept going since 2018, which brings me to a very unfortunate visit to Walmart I had recently.
Full disclosure, I…just don’t like Walmart. There! I said it! You might think this seems a little insensitive, or honestly ridiculous, but I can guarantee you that every single time I have gone into the Ithaca Walmart, something ridiculous has happened to me or around me. There was the time my mom and I talked to the real-life Leo from That 70s Show as he tried to direct us to where the string lights were (they were in the opposite direction that he pointed us in, by the way), or the time that I cried over a stuffed shark (since named Bruce) that I found misplaced in the kitchen section, and who could forget the time I bought a rug that smelled faintly of cheese. None of these times compare, however, to my trip to Walmart a few weeks ago, where I found out in the middle of the kitchen section, that the Ithaca College 2020 Voting Act Bill had not been passed by the administration. If you don’t know about the bill I’m talking about, you should know that over the past month or so I worked on and eventually pitched a bill to SGC with a few other wonderful people. The bill would require the college to allow for an Optional Excused Absence Day for anyone who could prove they voted in the 2020 election. This would let college students stand in long lines if they needed to cast their ballot. It would also be a game changer because it would show Ithaca College’s commitment to civic engagement. At the time of submission, the bill had 3 sponsors, 15 co-sponsors, and 430 signatures on an attached petition. Yet, despite the bill passing nearly everything it needed to pass, when it got to the top part of our college’s administration, it did not pass and was not officially resolved to be a part of IC. By the time I heard about the decision, our petition had passed 500 signatures. Since that day in Walmart, the college has acknowledged the bill, but instead passed the decision to the faculty, making the optional excusal not guaranteed for all.
So, why am I telling you all of this? Well, because I know that there will be some of you, even those of you who know me really well, who will think before they read this that I have it all figured out. That voting is my jam and my passion and I know everything. You’re on the right track. It is true that I do know some stuff, but I don’t know more than anyone else who has a phone, a hunger to learn and to be engaged, or someone who has a school skirt and a need for human interaction. I decided to become civically engaged because I liked some boys! I didn’t register to vote until the summer after my first year of college and after getting my heart broken! I have not voted in every election that I could have voted in! I have made massive mistakes!!! I have had to re-learn how to be a better ally, because clearly I am not doing enough as a white person in my society for my BIPOC friends and family! I have come a long way, but I still have a long way to go. So many of us do.
But the least we can do regardless of anything that stands in our way, including our own college, is use our voice. VOTE. Make ourselves heard. Hell, if this is not your first-time voting, play “Oops I did it again” when you leave your polling location! Help someone who doesn’t know how to vote and help them understand what they’re doing. Together we can do anything. I know this because I’ve proved it to myself. As long as you make an effort to show up for it every time, and make up for the lost time you let fall away, it doesn’t matter how you get there, why you left in the first place, or how something comes into your life. You don’t have to be perfect, and you don’t have to know everything right away. Your reasoning for stepping into the conversation doesn’t always have to be incredibly inspiring or life changing. I just wrote a whole piece describing my embarrassing reason to prove that none of that is true. You just need to be willing to expand your horizons at any point. Election day is about all of us, and November 3rd is the last election day of this year. So please, who cares what your introduction to the world around is, I just hope to see you out there exploring along with me. See you at the polls. :)