A few days ago, I felt prepared to express what voting for the first time in a major election meant to me. I was going to write about the pride I took in being able to affect the direction of our country’s future; to revel in sharing the deep purpose I felt when I called my grandmother right after casting my ballot and let the wisest, most loving person in my life know that I had done my small part to ensure our country continued moving away from the kind of divided world an African-American woman like her grew up in.
But then, in a matter of less than 24 hours, all of that pride was eclipsed by an overwhelming sense of shock and disgust. I’ve been struggling since to collect my thoughts and emotions. What follows is an attempt to explain what voting for the first time in this election means to me.
I’m not exaggerating or lying to myself when I recall that throughout the morning and early afternoon of Election Day, I experienced an extraordinary feeling of lucidity and focus. It may sound cliché, or fabricated, but it’s the truth. And that feeling persisted even as I cast my ballot. I was aware that votes would be counted later, and that news media outlets would inundate those willing to watch. But I didn’t fixate on the result. Instead I shifted my attention to other aspects of my life. Everything was clear.
Fast-forward to around midnight on Tuesday, and it was as if I hadn’t voted at all. Before the results started becoming clear, I had thought that regardless of the final tally, I had made my voice heard, that I had done a praise-worthy deed and could relax. What became brutally apparent that night is that, when you sustain so crushing a blow, there is little consolation in knowing you’ve done what you feel is right. Looking back, I think that the lofty ideas I held about what my vote meant were shielded by a false sense that the outcome—a Clinton presidency—was certain.
Until Tuesday I had avoided politics, particularly American politics, because of the kind of ugliness we have recently seen it engender. But what I’ve realized is that it is not enough to recognize that something is ugly, to say that the nation is divided, and then to do nothing. Now more than ever voting and social activism will matter in this country.
I haven’t lost faith in the democratic process. To be able to vote, I still feel, is both a privilege and a valuable opportunity to effect change. Yes, there will always be a bitter taste in my mouth when I recall my first presidential election. But that frustration will remind me how crucial it is to get out and vote, and to work on fixing the national problems laid bare by this election. In that sense, although my first time voting was not nearly as satisfying as I expected it to be, it mattered more—and in a more lasting way—than I could have imagined.