After shocking 2016 elections, voting, sustained political engagement vital for democratic expression

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MAGGIE MORE / THE FLAT HAT

I woke up after the 2016 presidential election to my mom crying and I instantly knew who won. I remember putting on my makeup before school, hoping I could cover up the tear tracks from my sobs that morning. I remember worrying as I got into my car wondering how my school, heavily divided between liberals and conservatives, would respond. I remember my worst fears coming true as three boys marched down the hall yelling, “build the wall.” I remember a Muslim girl’s hijab being ripped off. The 2016 presidential election changed me. It made me worried for the future, but it also made me angry — angry that a president once again did not win the popular vote, angry that young people did not go to the polls and angry that I would now be stuck with a president who would threaten my rights as a woman as well as the rights of many of my friends.

Now, it is time for the midterm elections, and a lot has happened within these past two years. The 2016 election sparked a change within our democracy, reminding people the importance of their voice and the necessity of using it. Events like the Women’s March and March For Our Lives have given me hope that both women and young people will enter the polls on Election Day ready to make their voices heard.

Only 19.9 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds cast their ballots in the 2014 midterm elections, according to the Current Population Supplement conducted by the U.S. Census. According to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census data, 18 to 29-year-olds have the potential to rival the baby boomer generation in the electorate this year. The data show that we, the youth, can have a significant voice in our democracy, but it is our silence and lack of showing up that have resulted in us being forgotten.

We need to raise our voices if we want to see change in the 2018 midterms. I ran in heels wearing my high school graduation gown and tassels so I could cast my vote in the 2018 primaries after graduation practice. I received calls from my friends as they proudly told me they just submitted their absentee ballots, excited that their voices would be included this year.

Monday after class, I drove to Richmond with my older sister, woke up bright and early today for the election, and cast my vote for Abigail Spanberger, representing the 7th District, and Tim Kaine for the U.S. Senate. I wanted to watch as my ballot was collected and see my voice on that page screaming for change. Our democracy survives when the people wield their voices, and voting is the most powerful weapon we have.

Email Emma Ford at erford@email.wm.edu