I have always been the sort of person who is passionate about politics. Raised in a military family, I took my patriotism seriously from a very young age. I love my country unabashedly; I cry when I hear the National Anthem and I wear red, white, and blue on all the appropriate holidays. Couple that with an adolescent love of historical fiction set in Revolutionary America, and it didn't take long for the ideals of our founding fathers to take root in my psyche. I joined the ACLU when I was 17 years old and have remained convinced that our constitutional freedoms are the backbone of this nation, worth defending at any and all costs. I voted in my first presidential election in 1984 and was sad, but not surprised, when my very first candidate - Walter Mondale - lost to Ronald Reagan. I still have a soft spot in my heart for Walter and I hope he's enjoying his retirement years in Minnesota.
By the time the next presidential election rolled around, I was the mother of an extremely precocious almost-three year-old. She liked to do what ever Mama did and so I took her to the polls with me to experience democracy in action. Thanks to the kind-hearted women working the tables that year, Britt was allowed to accompany me into the voting booth. I showed her how to flip the levers and pointed out the ones we wanted. In 1988 we (or Britt on my behalf, really) voted for Dukakis. She was heartbroken when he lost and she vowed to "vote harder!" next time. We did vote harder, each year heading to the polls together and requesting (and getting) a booth for two. The next two elections gave her a taste of the power of the ballot. 'We voted for him and he WON!" Indeed. We also developed a shared crush on Al Gore and were thrilled to get to see him in person when he and Tipper campaigned in one of our downtown squares.
As the years of the Clinton administration went by, her admiration for Al Gore continued to grow. She embraced his environmental causes with the sort of fervor that only teenagers know and she campaigned hard for him in the 2000 election. She was stunned by the shadiness of that election and took to referring to the sitting president as The Shrub. Where she'd once been a Democrat by default, she had now embraced the party on her own terms. On her 18th birthday, in December of 2003, she asked only for a Voter's Registration Card. I was happy to oblige and I still remember how miffed she was to realize that Georgia does not register voters by party. It pained her that her card didn't label her a Democrat.
In 2004, we voted separately for the first time in her life and I voted alone for only the second time in mine. Her own booth. Her own vote. Her own voice. I really couldn't say which of us was more excited. We talked for a long time that night about how important so many things were to her: gay rights, women's rights, the environment, immigration reform, access to health care, the poor...and I remember her saying "It's all so big, maija, and so important. How can anyone not see?" And I reminded her that it's our job to help people see, in the way we vote and in the way we live.
This week, I'm watching the convention without her for the first time in 20 years. I miss her passion and her commitment and some days it's So Hard to summon the energy to keep caring. But, I made her a promise: I won't forget that it's still our job and now I'm doing it for both of us.