I marked my 23rd birthday while monitoring the second round of presidential elections in Boghe, Mauritania. I remember so many things about that day. I remember the delay on the satellite phone I used to call my parents during a lunch break. I remember the uneven wooden benches we sat on as we watched hundreds of people file into concrete block schoolhouses, present their I.D. cards, be handed a ballot, go behind a cloth screen, make their choice, stuff their ballot in a plastic bin, dip their finger into an ink bottle, and walk out. Person, after person, after person; men, women, and new-to-voting teenagers. I remember watching an argument between an election official and a woman who had walked twenty miles to vote but had forgotten her identification. I remember watching the vote count, late into the night. I remember being amazed at how fervently people wanted to vote. I remember wishing my country was similar. I remember Mauritanians asking me why it wasn’t.
Voting is the only thing about which I am an absolute evangelical. It is America’s strongest and most enduring characteristic and the thing that, despite everything, still compels foreigners to emigrate. It is undeniably the most patriotic act an American citizen can perform. It is why 13-year-old Erza Retta Dessie from Ethiopia wore a Captain America costume when he got sworn in as an American citizen four days ago. The greatest gift I got while I was an international election monitor was understanding the power of the ballot box. You can’t change anything without participation.
Tired of corruption? Vote. Think politicians can’t be trusted? Vote. Want your guy or woman to win? Vote? Want any kind of change? Vote. Want to affirm the reasons why your forefathers came to this country? Vote. Want to affirm the assertion that people can change a nation? Vote.
See you at the polling place. (Not sure where it is? Look it up here.)
To motivate you, and in honor of the late departed Mr. Bradlee, a titan of the field of journalism, I give you the Washington Post March.