By Michelle Shapiro Sampson
Growing up in my family, there was always an understanding that when you turn 18, you vote. No excuses and no exceptions. I remember the first time I voted. I had just turned 18 and I traveled with my mother to our polling place at an elementary school in my hometown of Freehold, New Jersey. Back then we voted in large booths adorned with curtains, and you had to pull a giant lever to cast your ballot.
I remember thinking at the time that the process was as mysterious as it was anti-climatic. I mean, I wasn’t particularly engaged politically and it was a midterm election during George H.W. Bush’s term, which often has lower voter turnouts than Presidential elections. Nonetheless, I wanted to follow my family’s tradition, so I pulled the giant lever and made my selections for local, state and national representatives, as well as on the ballot measures (which I had little to no understanding of at the time). As I made my way out of the voting booth, I remember thinking that it felt like the civic equivalent of eating your vegetables. It was something I was told to do.
Eighteen years later, I was pregnant with my first child. Sen. Barack Obama was running against Sen. John McCain and this time, I was extremely engaged politically because now I had “skin in the game.” I wanted my son to grow up in a world where anyone can be President, regardless of skin color, gender or religion. This time, my husband and unborn son were with me when I entered the polling place in my now hometown of Los Angeles. The voting booths were quite different from when I first voted 18 years earlier, and the stakes felt higher. Together, my growing family and I cast our votes and helped make history.
That moment lit the fire inside of me that led me on a path of political engagement and social justice. The same election in which Barack Obama made history, California voted to pass Proposition 8, which eliminated the rights of same-sex couples to marry. The message was clear: if I wanted to raise my son in a society where gender, race or sexual orientation is of no consequence, I had more work to do.
Today, I am the proud parent of a son and a daughter, ages 9 and 7 respectively. I plan to bring both of them with me to my polling place on November 6 and hope that when they turn 18, voting will be more than just checking a box. It is my heartfelt wish that they will vote with their hearts and fight for their children’s future.
Michelle Shapiro Sampson is a Founding Board Member of the Jewish Center for Justice.