When I was in 4th grade, my mom became a U.S. citizen. The moment is crystalline in my memory. I remember what she wore: white pantsuit, navy and white-stripped blouse, and pearl earrings, the big ones reserved for significant life events. Weddings and funerals happen in churches, but the hallowed feeling of this day existed separately from religion. God could bear witness—she is always welcome at these functions—but the sacredness of becoming an American citizen superseded the type of God to which anyone prayed, the color of their skin, the first language they spoke, or the culture in which they were born. My mom borrowed one of my textbooks to study for the test, and as she departed for the swearing in ceremony, I felt a mixture of solemnity, celebration, and pride. I would go to school that morning, and by the time I arrived home that afternoon—hungry for a snack, book bag slung over one shoulder, singing Paula Abdul all the way from the bus stop—my mom would be an American.
In February 2018, a 4-month old infant was separated from his parents at the southern border. My daughter was, then, not yet 1-year-old, and I held within my body the visceral memory of her weight in my arms at 4-months. She needed to be fed 8 times or more per day. She existed solely on breast milk. She was an extension of me in ways I imagined before becoming a mother and others of which I had no clue. When she cried, the sound coursed through my nervous system and pleaded with my brain to make it stop by any means necessary. When audio recordings were released in which children detained in cages cried for their parents, I felt a rancid combination of hollowed anguish and fiery rage.
These two memories exist together in my mind. They are drastically different. One: personal and diffused with light, characterized by an America that seeks to welcome and unify and counts diversity among its greatest strengths. The America of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Of you maybe, or your parents, or grandparents (unless you are all Native American). Of Meb Kheflezghi, an immigrant from Eritrea and one of the most decorated and beloved distance runners in history, rounding that corner onto Boylston Street the year after the Boston Marathon bombing to win—the first American to do so since 1983—the crowd chanting, propelling, him across the finish line, “USA, USA, USA!”
The other memory belongs to the body politic, to a painful catalogue of the lowest, darkest, most shameful moments in our country’s history. Slavery was our original sin, occurring, it should be noted, on land stolen from Indigenous people. Jim Crow laws, which enforced racial segregation after slavery ended and paved the way, later, for mass incarceration and voter suppression. Japanese internment. The structural inequalities that result in Black and brown communities being disproportionately affected by coronavirus. This list is wildly incomplete, but it contains a thread as common as cotton: racism. You can’t take away people’s rights, land, or children so blithely and systematically unless you believe they are not fully people, not as worthy as other people. This is a hallmark of the current President’s platform. Make America Great Again was barely coded language for make it white again.
Did you know that in counties where the President held rallies in 2016, hate crimes increased by 226%?
Another hallmark is misogyny, of course. How else do you end up with a self-proclaimed, non-consensual grabber of women’s genitals in the Oval Office? How else do you end up with so many people deciding to stay home rather than vote for Hillary Clinton, the most qualified candidate in history?
Is this a political think piece or a personal essay or a blog post for a running store?
The answer is yes. It’s why I’m voting. I’m voting because the personal is political, and anyone who claims otherwise has a vested interest in upholding how things are. To recap, how things are right now is that we lose the same number of people as we did on 9/11 every 2-3 days. How things are is forced pregnancy bills have been set in motion in states like Georgia and Ohio, among others. How things are, is George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. Tamir Rice was 12 years-old. I am writing because no amount of yoga or meditation can dissolve the fury I feel when I recall someone telling us—women—that we were being hysterical the morning after the election. You may remember we convened a historic protest the day after the (dismally attended) inauguration. I arrived pregnant and prepared, filling my pockets with snacks and considering my exit strategy should I need one. I am voting because the climate is gasping for help. It is sounding every alarm possible. I am voting because when it’s safe for our children to go back to school, I’d prefer not to trade this new global pandemic for our old gun violence epidemic. I am voting to never again put babies and children in prison
The day after the Women’s March a photo of me appeared in the Associated Press, in which my sunglasses reflect a giant American flag billowing over Boston Common. The expression on my face is resolute. I knew the photographer was there, but I had more pressing things to think about. Senator Elizabeth Warren was speaking soon, and I was surrounded by thousands of women, who were furious like me, heartbroken like me, wide awake like me. Our eyes fixed straight ahead.
The finish line is in sight now, and it is the most important election of our lives. I am voting for Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and an America focused on creating a safer and brighter future for everyone.--