Being a parent changes you.
To the moms and dads reading this, I am preaching to the choir Captain Obvious style. But it really can’t be stated enough - if you have a child, or children, it’s almost as if your DNA is forever altered. Or maybe you unlock a part of yourself you didn’t know existed - a corner of your psyche that lies dormant until you look upon your newborn baby for the first time. You feel a sense of wonder and responsibility you didn’t know was possible. The weight of the world both weighs you down and lifts you up in that moment. That little life is purpose personified.
A life whose future is in your hands.
So when I make a point to take my oldest, now five, with me to vote every chance I get, it is with purpose. Because much like other aspects of life, the act of learning is much more impactful than the mere sight or sound. She gets to experience Election Day as something that is significant...because it is. She shakes hands with poll volunteers (before COVID, of course - hand waives behind masks this year). She sits with me and watches me fill out my ballot, whether it’s for local school board/board of supervisors members or for the President of the United States. She gets her sticker and wears it proudly, smiling as if she just got a medal.
We lose so much of our youthful exuberance in so many ways as we age. We get worn down, weathered by the ebbs and flows that follow us on a daily, monthly, and yearly basis. We wear these worries on our faces - they vary from person to person, family to family, but the simple joys and jubilation we once felt fade as the calendar flips. This manifests itself in many ways, but one of the main ones is the political process. Even way before this atrocity of a year that 2020 has become, before Populism returned to the American national narrative for better or worse in 2016, many viewed voting as a chore. It wasn’t something to look forward to - in fact, it was something to avoid until the “big elections” for president. It simply wasn’t important. It didn’t matter. Life trudged along regardless of who held the title of “the most powerful person in the free world”.
Maybe that’ll be one of the silver linings of 2020 when historians study this moment in time some day - an awakening of just how wrong so many of us were.
Jaren Jackson Jr. and the Memphis Grizzlies have been shining examples of trying to reinvigorate - or even establish - that emotional connection to the urgency to vote in the Mid-South. Jaren was even recognized by the Tennessee Secretary of State for his (and the Grizzlies’) efforts regarding the matter. In a lot of ways, Jaren serves as a perfect spokesperson for this campaign. He is clearly passionate about the idea of getting voters out. But even more than that, he embodies the youthful exuberance we all once felt in some way towards something - anything - that we were passionate about.
His demeanor is that of a young person who hasn’t been battered or broken by the wear and tear that this world can berate you with. He is both wise and whimsical - a positive force for involvement and impact in a cynical and seemingly imploding society.
Jaren and the Grizzlies remind us of what we are capable of when we accept that no matter how things appear to be going, regardless of your perspective on the country’s trajectory, our voices matter. It’s effective because it’s genuine - he isn’t (and they aren’t) doing this for personal/organizational gain. They’re actively seeking out ways for people to be engaged in the process and informing the public on the best ways to do so in their community. There may be some that see these efforts as partisan, but no one is turned away or told to not participate if they think differently. That’s nowhere in the plan of Head Coach Taylor Jenkins and the Grizzlies that states only some votes should count. It is about making it easier for people to find their voices in the political process.
Maybe you’re one of the roughly 100 million Americans that has already voted, either in person via early voting or by mailing in your ballots. Perhaps you already have a plan to vote today, ready to brave the uncertainty that only a year like 2020 can provide and execute our most important civic responsibility. And it’s also possible that you’re reading this and still wondering if any of this matters - if it means anything if you live in one of the seemingly 40 or so states that in this politically polarized environment that are already solidly in one section or the other.
In this year especially, but in any year, it matters. A lot.
For it’s not just the presidency on the line. It is state and local offices that impact your day to day life, state constitutional amendments and city/county ordinances that could change the course of history for millions. It’s investing in your future - your community’s future, your family’s future, your children’s future. And that’s worth waiting in a line for. Or standing in the rain or cold for. Regardless of where your compass points, it leads you to what you think is best for you, yours, and your country. That’s best expressed in the vote.
In a way, we’re all raising this nation as we work to form a more perfect union. Our Constitution established a country that is still young in years compared to others and viewed as a grand experiment to many. We’re at a turning point in that process as we determine what America we are going to build and leave for those that will come after us. There’s nothing more important than the influence you have on those that you leave behind you when you go. Our country and children share that distinction - their identity and existence moving forward is in the palm of our hand.
Here’s to hoping that realization changes you...if it hasn’t already.