In 2008, I stood in line to vote in front of Henry Kissinger...former Secretary of State, National Security Advisor, and advisor to Richard Nixon and pretty much every president since, Henry Kissinger. The Great Recession and the potential election of our nation's first black president had already given the day a lot of weight, but I'll be damned if standing in front of a Nobel Prize recipient didn't raise the stakes for me. The man fled Nazi Germany to get to our voting precinct. I walked from Dunkin' Donuts.
I remember wanting to strike up a conversation. I imagined us chuckling as we waited in line discussing our likely political differences. "Oh, Hank, you old bat," I'd say. "I know he's a war hero, but if you think for one second I'm not on the Hope and Change bus all the way to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, I've got some oceanfront property in Arizona I want to sell you." We'd high five, then he'd invite me for tea and we'd debate the finer points of American geopolitical strategy in the 21st century. We'd almost certainly become MySpace friends. Instead, I kind of stared at him for what felt like seconds but was almost certainly minutes, and was the type of speechless that makes one appear a bit dim. I remember my mouth being open a little.
Barack Obama went on to become president-elect that night, and in hindsight, those few minutes of me standing next to Henry Kissinger has become one of the many reasons I love America. He, the Bronze Star-winning, Harvard Ph.D., giant of American conservatism, and me, the eager if naive 27-year-old liberal still trying to figure out how to hail a cab and do his taxes correctly. We both walk into the booth and we both pull a lever-and then both of our votes are counted exactly the same. Voting levels the playing field. It is the great equalizer. Regardless of where we come from or what we look like, we all get a say. I just love that.
If this isn't voter intimidation, I don't know what is.
It doesn't stop with politics. Every day we make decisions. We vote with our time, with our passion, and with our money. We vote for the climate when we decide where to live, what to drive, and what to eat. We vote for transparency and sustainable essentials when we pick brands that make things out of recycled materials and have good plans for a product’s end of life. Which levers we choose to pull every day add up to a life. At Day Owl, we've developed an entire company dedicated to finding and celebrating the people who've decided to make the most of their votes. That's you. Do you know how I know? You're still reading this longish blog post about Henry Kissinger.
Since that Tuesday in 2008, I've since realized that being born male and white is hitting the lottery in America. I'm not gay or black or Muslim, and while I didn't come from money, we had enough to eat. It’s easy to see now that I love democracy and America because the system was hand-built for me. I feel like it matters because I've never not had the right to it. The realization of this privilege is a journey I'm still on, but I know enough to know that I want everyone to feel the power of voting from the place of righteousness we all deserve but not enough of us have. That only happens if we all show up...for the brands we admire, for the causes believe in, and most of all, at the voting booth.
You never know who you'll run into.
PS-I just found a terrific app called VoteWithMe. It scrapes the public record and tells you which of your contacts are registered to vote and which aren't. Apparently, non-registered voter are much more likely to register if they hear directly from a friend, and the app sets up ways for you to reach out to your friends and help them get registered one-on-one. It's great. Use it over the next 24 hours!