We pulled into the parking lot of our local town hall on that gloomy Tuesday afternoon of Nov. 3. My sister and I walked in with our documents in hand to prove our address and identification. They handed me my green and white ballot and off I went to one of the five voter stations.
As I read through the names, I recognized nobody; well, except Donald Trump and Joe Biden. But what did I truly know about them? The answer was nothing. I knew what social media had told me, but beyond that influence, my mind went blank. I filled out my ballot, put it in the machine and walked away. I felt like an idiot. One vote may not change an entire election; however, many votes with as little knowledge behind it as mine could.
“Don’t talk about sex, politics, religion or income and you’ll be OK.”
Growing up, this statement was reiterated to my siblings and I over and over and over again.
It was second nature to us to not mention these topics when in conversations with new people or quite frankly, anyone. These four things we were told would spark endless amounts of controversy, politics being the biggest perpetrator, and my parents thought the best way to avoid controversy was teaching us to avoid talking about them altogether. This seemed like a perfectly good rule to go by until I turned 18 and I had power over a ballot at the local town hall.
Posters, emails, text messages, social media posts, TV commercials, a global pandemic, you name it, and these four topics were involved in some way, shape or form. They were everywhere. As my adulthood continued, conversations about these topics I’ve always known to be taboo were initiated and I was lost, scared and nervous. Emails were sent and I wouldn’t reply. Nudges to vote in the mail got shredded.
It wasn’t until after this voting experience that I realized that it’s not what you talk about with people to learn, it’s how you talk about the information being presented. These four things, especially voting and politics can cause a lot of misread feelings and ruin friendships, but they can also be a point of union and acceptance as well. The umbrella term for all four of these subjects is “beliefs,” and I was raised to keep beliefs to yourself outside our home — but beliefs were made to be shared. They were made to spark conflict because with conflict comes opportunity for understanding and peace.
From the moment I dropped that ballot into the machine, I knew that I needed to do better, no matter how uncomfortable or how badly it could stir the pot with the people around me. By avoiding these conversations, I became an uneducated voter, like I am certain many others are, and uneducated voters can do more harm than good. At the end of the day knowledge is power, and one of the best ways to obtain said knowledge is by initiating those uncomfortable conversations with people you trust.