An election of firsts

The first time I remember identifying as a Democrat was the 2008 presidential election. My dad was a Democrat, so, as a 9-year-old, obviously I was a Democrat. As most people my age, I look back to 2008 as a year of many firsts.

My first election and my first inauguration day ended with my first president, Barack Obama. On inauguration day, my fellow fifth graders and I sat at our desks in Room 19 — dressed in red, white and blue — in awe as the country swore in its first African-American president.

Of course, as the next eight years passed, my interaction with politics was not as distinct as in 2008. But now we have arrived in 2016, and I have a new first: my first vote.

This is also my first year at UC Berkeley. Among my fellow students, I have found two camps: the indifferent and the passionate.

The passionate make this campus as loud and restless as it is. They’re the students who teach, discuss and protest. They watch the presidential debates and they research local and national issues — they care.

The indifferent students are who I see, or rather don’t see, more often. As busy college students and rookie adults, it’s hard to think of ourselves as just that — adults. Perhaps this perception of ourselves as pseudo-adults is why we vote less often. We have yet to adjust to our new civic status, and we don’t see ourselves as an accountable political voice — we walk with our heads down on Sproul Plaza.

But, in reality, adjusting to the many choices of adulthood can begin on Sproul.

Take the Trump Teach-In a couple of weeks ago; we had campus faculty members speaking out against Donald Trump while Berkeley College Republicans protested in the background. I’ve never seen so much conflicting rhetoric and conflict in one communal space.

Even beyond the presidential election, we are surrounded by political education. In my African American studies class, we spent an entire lecture discussing the details of California’s ballot measures. Students who care about everything from the death penalty to bilingual education and plastic bags went up on the stage and spoke.

In moments such as this, we have the opportunity to absorb the conflict and the beliefs in order to form our own political values. We don’t have to blindly adopt “the adults’” opinions because we are the adults. We can learn and we can make our choice.

I registered to vote through an organization on campus. Then, last weekend, my roommate and I spent five hours voting. We used The Daily Californian’s extensive election coverage to research ballot measures and candidates, we argued over some propositions and we laughed at the seeming simplicity of others. When I dropped off my ballot in front of the Berkeley City Hall, I was so proud because I knew I made an educated vote.

Like 2008, 2016 will be a year of personal and historical firsts; only, these firsts will actually count in history. This campus is known for its political past. At the end of the day, we are students at that same revolutionary institution. There is no better way to acknowledge this education than to vote. Election time is crazy and it is confusing, but we are lucky to be in an environment that helps us deal with the insanity. So let’s all join the passionate and mark our first vote.

Contact Malini Ramaiyer at [email protected].