I am happiest with my posts when I tell a story as it relates to my life and my choices. Finding examples of the current issues that match that criteria can sometimes be difficult. In light of the delayed reporting of the Democratic Iowa Caucus 2020, I am going to talk about why I did and didn’t vote and what my reasoning was.
I was first eligible to vote in 1980. I was a romantic through junior high and high school. When reading literature, I chose Dumas. When reading history, I chose the underdogs. When choosing biography or family histories, I chose Native Americans and the Kennedys. I loved the protest, Vietnam, and civil rights eras. I hated having missed them and was enthusiastic about voting Edward Kennedy into the presidency. When he elected not to run, I didn’t bother to vote.
Looking back, I believe that I made that choice for two reasons. First, the issues of the time were not directly affecting me much. I had just graduated from high school and was off for my freshman year at Washington State University. Second, I chose only national politics and, romantically, wanted to work and vote for outstanding individuals rather than outstanding platforms.
Charismatic individuals were making talk radio popular. I wanted fairness and equality, but I was focused on the environment I lived in. That environment was conservative, focusing on the economy and national interests. Hardly surprising since my husband was career Army and we were living and working on Army installations. To the best of my recollection, I continued to vote in national elections (even the mid-terms). I know that my personal marital experiences and my workplace experiences pushed me farther and farther to the liberal social justice end of the spectrum.
My career lacked continuity because I was constantly uprooting myself to follow my (now former) husband around the country. Demands on his time trumped demands on mine because he had a career and I had a job. My conditioning initially had me feeling guilty whenever my feelings and actions conflicted with supporting those traditional roles and expectations.
Several moments broke the spell for me. The first occurred shortly after my marriage when we were living in a small trailer in Louisiana. When I wasn’t working, I’d been taking care of the minimal household chores and doing most of the other chores like laundry and cooking. Afterwards, I saw how we came home from our workdays and I scurried around while he relaxed. After a week or two of that, I looked him in the eye and told him, “From now on, when we get home, we will both take care of whatever needs doing and then we will both relax. I am not doing it all while you relax.”
The next two occurred in Alaska. The first in Fairbanks was a personal crisis. I had sworn that I wouldn’t marry before thirty, that I would get a college degree and that I would be writing and publishing my own work. I was twenty-five, married, had completed only my freshman year of college, and was working as a data entry clerk. I was also sick with bronchitis and my husband was gone on a local training exercise. I sounded bad enough when he called to talk to me that he snuck out of the field to see me. We agreed that I needed to go back to college and start job hopping to regain what I lost each time we moved.
In Anchorage, I applied for and was selected as a Department of Army (DA) computer technology intern. They would pay me to work, provide on-the-job training and send me for college courses. I was thrilled. Meanwhile, my husband was not happy with his job at Fort Richardson and wanted to take advantage of an opportunity to return to Fort Wainwright (Fairbanks). My internship was not transferable and I “politely” explained that I wasn’t giving up this major opportunity because he didn’t like his new job.
I believe the final severing of most of my ties to living a traditional life occurred a couple years later when we were getting ready to make another major move. Military careerists really have a “fish or cut bait” moment at the mid-point of their careers (roughly 10 years). They either get out to start a civilian life or they commit to staying in until they are retirement eligible. My husband decided to get out. My internship had moved me into an excellent position with highly competitive pay. He was working part-time already and thought he could get more hours there or find something else. At the final moment, he decided he didn’t really know what he wanted to do with his life and decided to stay in. That meant another move, this time to Arizona.
As we made our plans, my husband continued to build rosy scenarios of our fresh start. How exciting it would be. How easy it would be for me to find a job. How we could easily get post housing or even buy our own home. I did my research and found little of this to be true, especially the post housing and employment outlook. The average wait to get another civil service job was 12–18 months. Post housing was old and in high demand. I finally looked at him one weekend and said, “I’ve been looking at the cost of apartments. Unless you can tell me that you understand how big a sacrifice I am making to support this move and your last minute change of mind, you will be moving alone.” After some nominal attempts to protest my reading of the situation, he did just that. I believe that was the beginning of the end of my marriage both because I demanded equality in the relationship and because I realized I cared about that equality not just for myself. I cared about it for other women and every marginalized and undervalued group.
At this point, I started voting and staying informed about the issues. I disagreed and challenged authority. I asked for justification, i.e. facts and data over feelings and tradition. By the end of this transformation, even my in-laws understood and could predict my viewpoint. For example, when news programs began covering the dilemma of military couples who were both serving and both being deployed, they were able to look at me and know that I would not say it was the wife’s job to resign and/or stay home with the children. Instead, they asked me what I thought and I told them, “Whichever parent has the better career (rank, money, tenure) should stay in and the other one should resign.”
I cared about politics before the election of Donald Trump and I voted. I voted because you really can’t complain about much of anything if you can’t be bothered to vote. Did I always like my choices? No. Did I always like where each candidate stood on the issues? No. I prioritized voting by social justice issues such as reproductive rights (and abortion), marriage equality, equal justice under the law, voting rights and equal pay for equal work. I am a straight white woman, but I cried when Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008. I believed in change, but I didn’t understand the obstructionism and backlash that would follow.
I vote now because I am no longer living in a country whose policies I can support. Under Donald Trump and the white supremacy agenda, those policies are not just flawed. Those policies are antithetical to everything the Founding Fathers intended, everything the Bill of Rights and the Constitution were written to protect, and all societal progress fought for and legalized as amendments to that Constitution. I can’t just disengage because my position and lifestyle are pretty much protected. The literal lives of far too many other people are not protected … or even valued. And frantically holding on to power, fearing change, and choosing the known over the unknown do not make that justifiable.