Voters: Let’s Talk

election

I was excited to turn eighteen years old so I could register to vote. Every time I’ve moved, changing my voter registration is a priority; I don’t want to miss a single election.

And for the most part, I haven’t. I’ve voted in the big ones, the presidential elections. I’ve voted for senators and representatives and governors and mayors in the off years. I’ve voted for school board members and city council members and positions that were so obscure I had to do my research before I got to my polling place. I’ve stood in line for thirty seconds to thirty minutes to two hours, just so I could do my civic duty and vote.

This year, I’m not alone. There are a lot of registered voters in the United States actually voting, which on the surface is a good thing. This is democracy in action, they tell us. This is how the process is supposed to work. And it is.

But.

(You knew the “but” was coming, right?)

*****

My kids think they’re big kids, but really they’re the littler ones in the building. Even still, they’re a lot more informed than I was when I was their age. They’re hearing about this election just like the rest of us. I may have helped them along because we talked about it during February as part of our Presidents’ Day curriculum. First we learned about what a President does. Then we learned about President Obama, followed by Presidents Washington and Lincoln.

And then we talked about how President Obama won’t be President forever. He’s been the President their entire lives, but soon that will be changing.

On the day of our state’s primary, we had a classroom election. I created a ballot showing the names and pictures of the top 2 Democratic and top 3 Republican candidates. I showed them a brief PowerPoint I created. Each slide had the candidate’s name, the same picture from the ballot, and a map showing which state they’re from. Nothing about policy or family or even pets they may have.

When we got to Trump, one of the girls had a visceral reaction. The words burst from her mouth, almost before she realized what she was doing. She had to tell her friends that this man was bad. He wanted to build a wall and send people back to Mexico.

I only have a few students whose families are from Mexico. But for most of my students, either they or their parents were born in another country. They are mostly refugees and immigrants. As a country we used to welcome them with open arms. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” is what we used to say.

The dialogue is different now.

I don’t know how my students and their families are treated outside of school. I can’t claim that my experience in the community is their experience; that would be foolish. 

What I do know is that my kids, with their missing teeth and scratched up knees, understand something about humanity that a staggering number of adults do not. 

In our state’s real primary, Trump won the Republican primary. 

In our class’s primary, some voted for Clinton because she is a woman, and they’ve already noticed there are no female Presidents. Others voted for Cruz or Rubio because he looks like some of them. Some felt the Bern and voted for Sanders. 

None of them voted for Trump. 

After we tallied the results, I confessed to them that I didn’t either. I voted for one of the other candidates, just like they did, although I didn’t and won’t tell them who I picked. I also told my kids that I agree with them–the way Trump treats people is wrong. 

*****

I’m not going to tell you who to vote for and support. I have my candidate, who I want to win, and I’m sure you do too. I’m not even telling you which political party to pick.

But.

I want you to get into your magical time machine and travel to my classroom yesterday morning. We don’t talk about the election every day, but I intentionally brought it up because after the most recent voting, Rubio exited stage left. I then told them that right now Trump and Clinton have the most votes. 

And it got very, very quiet. 

Scarily quiet. 

There were a lot of sad faces. A lot of worried expressions. Even though I strongly suspected I knew why, I wanted them to have a voice, so I asked them why they looked sad and worried. 

Some don’t have enough language proficiency to express their thoughts.

Some do. 

They told of how their daddies might have to go away. How their mommies and daddies might have to go to Mexico and leave them behind. How he wants to build a wall. And paint the wall. And keep them all away from each other. 

My recent loss notwithstanding, I am not prone to burst into tears. A tear doesn’t usually come to my eye. 

Usually. 

My eyes got a little watery as I listened to these kids, these babies, my babies, talk about how scared they were. 

And then selfishly I wondered, “how on earth do I transition us out of this conversation? How do I give them any hope?” I’ll be honest; for a few seconds in my head it was really grim. 

I started by telling them that people were still voting and there were a lot of states left. Then I reminded them that President Obama was still President until January. I pointed out that even if Trump is the winner on “the elephant side,” there is still another vote for all of the grown-ups in November. I stressed that they need to remind all of the grown-ups to vote because that’s what it’s going to take. 

(I said all of that knowing that short of strong party machinations and a brokered convention, Trump is the Republican nominee. I also said all of that knowing that Obama has deported many, many people.)

Neither side is perfect. Both have flaws. But I dare you to look in my kids’ eyes. See their worry. Notice their confusion that grown-ups, who are supposed to do the right thing, are doing things to hurt kids and separate families. 

I know I’m not just voicing this to anonymous people online. Remember, a majority of Republican voters in my state voted for him. These are my neighbors, possibly friends and coworkers. It sickens me, but I have a close family member who voted for him. 

I remember watching last summer as the pundits wondered if this was a publicity stunt; would Trump even file? Now we know. This is very, very real. 

The hate and the fear-mongering are real too. 

The viciousness, the cruelty, the mocking, the hatefulness…this is what we see.

This is what my kids see.

Maybe your state has already voted. Maybe your primary or caucus hasn’t happened yet. But I know you still have your vote in November.

Whenever you vote next time, I want you to think about my kids. My kids who are at home right now worried that next year there might be a painted wall separating them from their mommy and daddy. Could you truly look them in the eyes and yell at them to go back where they came from? Could you tell them that that wall is a good idea? Could you look at their innocent faces and say that they are terrorists?

Think about it. Really think about it. Who you vote for helps determine who and what we value as a nation. It helps determine who is or isn’t marginalized.

Voters, make the right choice. For our country. For humanity.

And for the children I teach every day.

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