No choice but to vote: Being a first-time voter in 2020

To ease my thoughts on this election, I went on a walk through my hometown neighborhood. Growing up in a largely white, upper-middle-class suburb, Donald Trump’s election win in 2016 wasn’t all too surprising, as my neighbors and classmates were among those who agreed with his rhetoric. Because of this, I couldn’t wait to vote in 2020, as I wasn’t able to in 2016. I couldn’t wait to have my vote cancel theirs out, as their voices always seemed to scream louder than mine. When the election results came in for the last presidential election, the sense of impending doom I felt wasn’t eased by reassuring myself that I did all I could, because back then I wasn’t able to vote due to being too young. 

However, this election, I’ve been surprised to see a considerable number of signs go up in my neighborhood with phrases like “Black Lives Matter,” “No Human is Illegal” and “Love is Love” —  phrases that shouldn’t be controversial, but nevertheless are in certain communities. It’s easy to focus on the houses that don’t have these signs, though, because this election is intensely personal for many voters, more so than usual.

To me, nothing has reaffirmed the importance of voting the way this president has. A president who is directly responsible for the deaths of more than 220,000 Americans through his irresponsibility in handling the COVID-19 pandemic. A president who is hostile against journalists and scientists, denouncing them at what seems like every opportunity. A president who doesn’t even appear to consider the voices of young people, appealing directly to the older white voters in his base. So I’m going to vote, and I’m going to encourage everyone I know to do so as well, even if I know that voting won’t solve everything or even begin to fix the deep-seated, systemic issues in this country, ones that electoral politics alone can’t solve. 

In some ways, it has been interesting to see candidates try to appeal to young people — or fail to do so entirely. Whether it’s through TikTok, Animal Crossing or other social media platforms, Joe Biden seems to be counting on young people, hoping we’re enthusiastic enough to vote, encouraging us through the technology his campaign thinks we love. Trump, on the other hand, seems to know he’s unpopular with young people and hasn’t done any outreach of this sort. 

But what neither candidate seems to get is that young people don’t care about these trivial things. We want a promise that the candidates care about us enough to change the future for the better. Whether that be committing to slowing the effects of climate change, working to end the threat of gun violence in our schools, making college tuition somewhat affordable, enacting systemic reforms in favor of racial justice or properly handling the COVID-19 pandemic so we can return to our college campuses, these are the issues that young people have proven they care about. And because these are not the tenets of these candidates’ campaigns, with one candidate ignoring these goals entirely, it seems clear that we’re not the main demographic these candidates are appealing to — possibly because youth voters have had historically low turnout in past elections. This is the election to show that this shouldn’t be the case, and that young people care deeply about our future and the future of our democracy. This is the election to show that politicians need to care about what we say we need for future generations, even if they won’t be alive to see it. And I’m excited that I get to play a part in that for the first time. 

For my first election, I’ve been trying to exercise every option afforded to me. I’m planning on voting early in person. On Election Day, I’m serving as a poll worker to mitigate the nationwide shortage. I’ve been watching the debates, staying as informed as possible, phone banking and trying to spread awareness of voting resources on social media. But still, it doesn’t feel like enough. It’s very easy to think that my actions won’t make a difference and that this lunacy will go on for four more years. But I have to believe my efforts will help. I have to choose to be hopeful that the people around us can help change the world into a more accepting and fair place. I have to choose to see the houses with signs of support for marginalized people rather than all of those without. If we as young people don’t believe that we can change the future for the better by engaging with our democracy, what else is there that’s worth doing?

Contact Caitlin Keller at [email protected].