The volunteers were adamant: We have to get out the vote. Talk to your friends, your neighbors, your co-workers and tell them about new voter ID laws. Get out the vote! Their passion is commendable and absolutely necessary. As thousands of us were waiting in line for the doors to open for the Bernie Sanders rally in Madison, Wisconsin last Saturday, I also could not avoid this seemingly tongue-in-cheek utterance in my head: As if they needed to beg me. I’m Puerto Rican, of course we vote. Heck, we even drove early from Milwaukee and walked two miles from downtown Madison to the Alliant Arena to join the crowd and cheer for Bernie.
But there is nothing to be taken for granted. In Puerto Rico most people who can vote do so, and there is a considerable engagement in many other communities of the Puerto Rican and Latinx diaspora, but still, no voter should be taken for granted. It is better to feel an enthusiastic urge to vote than just think we will vote as if completing another chore.
Voting is a right and a hard-fought one that was won by the sweat, blood and tears of women and their allies so that we —women included— could exercise such right. That does not mean necessarily that we must vote just because, as if it’s some knee-jerk reaction. It does mean, however, that we must not succumb to complacency.
Before 2008 (that is, in my twenties), most presidential election cycles did not allow me the choice of voting for someone instead of just voting against someone. And that may cause a bit of resentment. It also builds the ground for apathy, which is great news for those who want to be in power but do not represent the diversity and complexities of the people and communities they are supposed to serve. Somehow, that type of candidate always finds a militant electorate to grant them their vote.
Votes should be earned. The generalized blind allegiance to political parties has had nefarious results not just in Puerto Rico, but elsewhere. And the United States is no exception.
In 2008, it was the first time that I voted for someone instead of against someone. As a woman, and a Latina, casting that vote felt as if the candidate had earned it. I was glad to be a part of such a historical moment. And yet, if we were to go back to listen to the primary debates, both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton would sound to us inexplicably right-wing leaning: Marriage is between a man and a woman (for the marriage equality question); Abortions are not desirable (for the reproductive rights question); First, we need to make sure they know we are a country of laws (for the immigration reform question). They all defaulted to that type of preface before beginning to sound somewhat progressive.
Today, those formulaic responses do not jive with the times. Equality, reproductive rights without stigma and compassion in social justice are at the forefront of discussions. And today, in 2016, it is refreshing not to hear formulaic responses to answers that address aspects related to our humanity, wherever we find ourselves in the sexual orientation, gendered or “official” spectrum.
No candidate should take my vote for granted. Voting is my right. And it is true that once you earn a right, you should never give it back. It will be discouraging if —depending on the primary results and/or any questionable maneuverings during the convention in summer— in November I am presented with the case of having to vote for the status quo because of the need to vote against the prospect of something downright scary.
Since 2008, I have been voting for a candidate for president and, inspired by the young and diverse crowd at the Sanders rally in Madison, it is my hope to keep exercising such a precious right.
Nancy Bird-Soto has a PhD in Spanish from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has published Put Together: A Minne-Memoir with Editorial Trance (New York, 2014). Her first novel in Spanish, Aries Point o el viaje de Pleione, will be published in print this spring by Isla Negra Editores (San Juan and Santo Domingo). You can follow her on Twitter @nancybird75.