Malia Obama turns 18 on the 4th of July, which makes her eligible to vote in November. That’s a big deal for her and for all who will join her as participants in this year’s election. The question is, how many of her classmates will exercise that right; further, what percentage of voters in general will actually exercise that right? History gives a dismal “F” to the answer to that question for Americans.
There are plenty of organizations that encourage voter registration: Rock the Vote, Voto Latino, Black Girls Vote, Asian American Millenials Unite, et al. And each will achieve a level of success. But many of their target audiences–young people, Latinos, Blacks, and Asian Americans–still feel disenfranchised and will not add their voices to the political selection process. More than statistics, my heart tells me this is so.
When I was drafted into the Army at 19, I could neither drink legally nor vote. And wearing the uniform of an American soldier every day did not make me feel any more American than my former civilian self. In fact, by the time I arrived in Vietnam, my life resembled nothing like my life at home. Carrying a weapon 24 hours a day will do that to a person. Even conducting missions with Korean ROKs and Vietnamese ARVNs didn’t change the “man without a country” syndrome for me. I simply never thought I was “defending” America.
I was a good soldier. For the most part I followed orders and ventured into–and survived–precarious situations. But no matter how many American troops I was with, when I looked at Vietnamese families and their environs, I felt like an outsider. We macheted our way through their jungles where every now and then we would come upon a small clearing and a hootch and maybe a water buffalo. We sloshed through their rice paddies, destroying who knows how many grains along the way. Once, during a firefight, I laid in a paddy and, when the shooting stopped, found myself with two legs crawling with leeches. Hard to feel like an American under any of these circumstances. (I was a city boy.)
My heart tells me that many eligible voters will not do so. Having turned 21 in Vietnam, I came home with that privilege; but I did not exercise it for years. There were so many politically connected people, democrats and republicans, that I did not like or trust, I thought my voice didn’t count and that I didn’t want to support a country that perpetuated a war I felt, from personal experience, was wrong. The people? Here are a few: Johnson, Nixon, McNamara, Kissinger. Although years have passed, warmongering and chicken hawks linger on. The more current names: Bush, Cheney, Perle, Wolfowitz, Beebe (sp?), Petraeus, and many others.
Given my own history, I would be hypocritical to tell others that they “must” vote. I can tell them, however, that I have changed my opinion about my singular action of pulling the lever. I now believe it matters. Even in predicted so-called landsides, I believe it is important to let our fellow citizens–and the world–know where the majority of America stands on particular issues. Issues that are important to me:
- Closing Guantanamo Bay
- Leaving Iraq
- Leaving Afghanistan
- Leaving Syria
- Cutting the Defense Budget
- Reducing stockpiles of weapons, especially nuclear weapons
- Declaring that corporations are not people
- Joining the International Court in order to curtail actions of people like and including Cheney
- Stop bullying the United Nations so that it can become the deliberative, diplomatic body it was intended to be
- Restructure NATO so that individual nations bear more responsibility for their own defense
- Pursue vigorously alternative power sources
What is most important to me concerning this year’s November ritual is how the presumptive candidates, Clinton and Trump, handle themselves between now and then. I am looking for them to address “my” issues and to “act presidential.” See you at the polls, Malia.