Remember when we didn’t vote? Remember when we were too young to care but old enough to register but without enough bothers to actually figure out the process? Remember that?
Politics were happening everywhere, in conversations and on the news, online and off. We jokingly laughed that the system was dumb and that we, young adults, had nothing to add to what was happening. A single vote was a crumb in the chewing mouth of democracy, a little substance with little value. Why be eaten? Why not fall out, onto the plate, to explore life outside the body?
Elections would come and go and we would sit and laugh at them. Over drinks—We were old enough to drink.—we would playact counter culture. “I’ve never voted in a presidential election,” someone would say. “I’ve never voted at all,” another would top. “I don’t even know how to register!” would be added. The words and phrases, the lack of interest, would pile and pile and pile up, this Tower Of Babel for us to get closer and closer to that which we don’t care about for the ironic demands of smirking at its face. Did we do this because we thought that was what alt-adults did? Feigned intellectual opinion but shrug at politics, as it was the system and therefore uncool? Was that what we were doing?
Why didn’t we vote? There was no strong opinion either way. There was no handholding but there was an over saturation. There was—and always is—so much talk about why we need to vote. There is so much said to make us fatigued by it all. The news cycle dizzies us to the point that we don’t know where on the surface of politics to touch. The Middle East? Wall Street? Equal rights? Health care? All these things are adult. Our (public) education only got so far: by the end of the year, we never got to current events. There are entire chapters of recent history, of context, missing from our minds. Why would we vote? We weren’t taught to connect with anything present. This isn’t our world. Our lack of knowledge is an immunity, no?
That must be it, the source of such blithe, oblivious entitlement. Or laziness? It must be that. If someone literally guided us, giving personal guidance on a one-to-one level, we would have voted. We would have connected, in some form. But we didn’t because we weren’t “that political person,” the friend who wore blazers all the time even though he was 19 or the friend who went to protests because she had so many opinions: voting was for them. Voting was something that happened to someone, if they cared. Did we care? It’s not that you or I didn’t care: we had no need to care. Those who cared didn’t have enough going on for them, we thought. They were boring or virgins or sober. What is appealing about any of that?
Things happened, though. Presidents got elected, offices changed, things started to happen or not happen and we saw ourselves more and more in the news. That woman or that queer person or that child or that hispanic or that…person in their twenties? What were we doing in the news? After dreams and young adult life started to shift and fizzle, borders and identities evolving, we started to realize that our apathy is no longer a cute teenage situation of counter culture but an adulthood trapped by immaturity. Did our political third eyes open? Did we suddenly start to listen? Were our heads so far inside ourselves that not-voting was acceptable? When did being smart become uncool?
Then we figured it out. We sat down at the table. We did the work, taking ten minutes out of our lives to do what everyone else did years ago. This type of “adulting” was so obvious but, like all the things we have not done or took so long to do as people of a certain age, the act required a few minutes of concentrated attention. It required the quieting of childish minds, a power exchange with the adult floating above us that we could be if we took a blinked upward at that person.
We did that, though. We somehow became…political? We became the blazer wearer and the protestor, our own version of Tracy Flick. That seemed doable, right? We adopted that persona into the many that we have.
Thankfully, that time period when we didn’t vote isn’t necessarily shameful—but it is deeply embarrassing. “Remember when we didn’t vote?” we mention to each other after years apart. “Remember when we thought that was dumb?” We thought that was dumb because we were dumb. We’re only now a little less dumber, apparently.