My son voted for the first time last week, in early voting before Tuesday’s formal D.C. primary. I convinced him to register a couple of years ago, but getting him actually to vote has been much harder. I’ve had trouble understanding exactly why. It could be because the cocoon of support around him still makes him feel childlike and fearful of “stepping out” into the adult world. It could just be because it’s too much trouble to try to understand candidates and issues when listening to music is a lot more fun! Whatever the reason, he came around. But before going to vote, I insisted that we spend a little time talking about the positions and people on the primary ballot. At first he said he didn’t want to come with me; then he called back and said he would, and he would let me “tell him who to vote for.” I refused to do that, and tried to be as objective as I could in describing who was who: in the end he didn’t even ask whom I favored, and that made me happiest of all.
When we walked into the voting site, it was as empty as I had hoped. I had written ahead to say he might be anxious and need my help with voting, and I had the Board of Elections response in my bag in case the issue came up. But I know from monitoring polling places myself that there also are election workers available to help out. We were the only two entering the room, so I told the volunteers that it was his first time voting, and they all clapped for him. He instantly felt at ease, and walking in with confidence, he told me he didn’t need my help. And he didn’t. The only assistance he received was the same that I got – being shown how the new machines work, then how to print and proofread the ballot before feeding it into the tabulator.
Sure, I know how little our D.C. vote counts in the big picture (see yesterday’s Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/dc-politics/dead-last--again--among-us-primaries-dc-democrats-chafe-at-a-trivial-vote/2016/06/11/3c085fc0-2e62-11e6-9b37-42985f6a265c_story.html). With our single (non-voting) member and a shadow D.C. representative on the ballot, I had gently tried to explain to him D.C.’s “special status” without launching into a tirade about taxation without representation. Still, the local elections count for more, and I wanted him to be enthusiastic, not discouraged.
And yes, I still felt a mother’s pride when he slapped the “I Voted Early” sticker on his T-shirt and strutted out of the community center. After all, every vote is about the future, not about the past, and one by one, little by little, votes and advocacy do bring change. It’s harder to believe in positive change with the ugliness of this political season and the news of our latest mass shooting out of Orlando, but I truly believe the wavy line of history does tend toward the good.
That comes primarily by people speaking up for themselves, including people with disabilities. We parents sometimes have a hard time stepping out of the way and shedding our protective instincts, and I know I don’t always get that right myself. But the more people with disabilities vote, speak up, are visible in our community, across the country and across the globe, the more they have the ability to change the world. And maybe my son and the rest of his generation will also bring about, and live to see, the full civil rights of all the people in our nation’s capital. I’m counting on him.