Some musings from the first early voter in North Carolina (at the very least, in Mecklenburg County). Please excuse the rambling that may have something to do with at third cup of coffee and intermittent TV interviews.
I'm sitting down at the Hal Marshall Annex in Charlotte, North Carolina, looking at three flags - the Star Spangled Banner, the North Carolina Flag, and the Mecklenburg County flag.
I've served the United States and North Carolina as a Presidential Elector, and I serve Mecklenburg County as a member of a Citizen's transit board. I serve all three when I vote. Right now, I think I'm the first voter in North Carolina.
In North Carolina, we have a long tradition of standing up and being counted. On our flag we display two dates: May 20, 1775 and April 12, 1776. The former is "Meck Dec" day, a big event in my county, and the other is the date of the Halifax Resolves - in a nutshell, two occasions when North Carolinians declared their independence from tyranny.
I believe that voting is the ultimate declaration of independence. I believe voting grants us independence from the tyranny of the word "impossible."
When I registered, I registered as an independent, because that's how I felt. I was no fan of President Bush's war, but the Democrats in the Senate went along with it. Nevertheless, I've voted for few Republicans.
The first time I was able to vote, I had no idea who I was voting for. It was 2003, and I knew many of the town board candidates personally - but I depended on a local group for the school board endorsements. I was also a provisional voter, because my motor voter registration didn't go through.
I quickly realized the folly of following a slatecard after a few of the people I voted for diverged from my personal beliefs. I also learned that Democrats were the ones responsible for my ability to vote provisionally. In spite of my desire to be independent, I re-registered as a Democrat.
In 2004, my political activities expanded outside of voting. I volunteered for Erskine Bowles, perhaps the most qualified Senate candidate never to be elected to the Senate. I attended my first fundraiser, and somewhere in the ether there's a picture of me, Erskine, and Dean Smith (which is a big deal here in NC). I knocked on doors, I made phone calls, I organized meetings ... but when it comes down to it, the voting booth is the one place where I can exercise my political power independently and without reservation.
In 2005, I learned why it mattered so much to me. I had the privilege of walking the halls of the capitol building and working under a former President. What I thought back then:
The internship in Sen. Biden's office was one of the best experiences of my life. To me, nothing is like waling into our nation's Capitol building. You feel the power of luminous ideas flowing in and out of neo-classical marble. You feel that if you had to die for these ideas, you could, and the world would be at peace. It's people like Barack Obama and Joe Biden that give that Capitol building its majesty and presence.
I still believe that. And as my civil service has grown to include elected office (sorta) and a PAC, the one place I can exercise my political speech, unencumbered, is in the voting booth. The one place where I always feel a connection to the hallowed halls of our Democracy is at my polling place.
I've told all the news crews who have interviewed me that I want the first (early) vote in North Carolina to be cast for Elaine Marshall. I believe that, because I believe in Elaine. I've also brought up same-day registration, because people can and should register during early vote if they haven't already. However, that's all a simplification.
What I believe in most of all today is telling my fellow Millennials that we can make a difference in this election - no matter who we vote for - and that we can't be silenced after we enter the voting booth.
I've watched people try to silence us. In 2007, while I was part of a coalition working to pass the same-day registration bill, I was in North Carolina's legislative building as our Republican State Auditor was actively disenfranchising young voters. He was claiming that 17-year-olds can't and shouldn't vote in primaries, in spite of the fact that the law says they can as long as they turn 18 by Election Day. He was doing everything in his power to demonstrate "fraud" connected with same-day registration. Young people stood up against him, and we won.
I would like to think I've fought my entire life to help young people have a voice in government. I ran for county commissioner at 20, and though nobody gave me a chance I came within 150 votes of winning a primary. When the North Carolina Democratic Party elected me to be on our slate of Electors, nobody thought Barack Obama would actually win North Carolina - but he did. I want young people to go out and vote because I believe what I said that day - "America is still a place where anything is possible." I started a PAC to help get young people elected, and last year all of our endorsed candidates won.
In spite of all of that, I'm going to be closest to the true idea of Democracy when the polls open at 8AM and I vote.
I'm sitting under three flags that I represent, and that represent me. I'm looking to the future, I'm hoping that we can keep the change, and I'm working to get others to join us. I'm voting.
Anything can happen when people go into the voting booth. So let's get them out to vote - and let's not forget to vote ourselves.
October 14th, 2010
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