A first-time voter makes his voice heard
It was Ryan’s son’s first time voting.
Rory was 18, a political science major sophomore at an upstate university, and his voter registration card sizzled in his wallet like a Roman candle on the Fourth of July. The young man is a registered Democrat in a nation divided between red states, blue states, and white noise blaring from that declining city on a hill called Washington, D.C.
Rory is a Bernie Sanders Democrat, a kid who celebrated the recent victories of Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez’s upset victory over Congressman Joe Crowley in Queens, the progressive Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum’s primary win, the candidacy of Beto O’Rourke against the odious Ted Cruz in Texas, and the maverick candidacy of Cynthia Nixon for the Democratic nod for governor here in New York.
Rory’s very first vote was going to be for Cynthia Nixon. After the Ocasio-Cortez win, Rory had joined the Democratic Socialist Party and sent a $25 donation from his summer job to the Nixon campaign.
On pre-primary Wednesday night Rory, who has not yet taken his road test for a driver’s license, asked Ryan if he could drive two hours up to his campus to pick him up and drive him home to vote. “I can do an absentee ballot but I really want to walk into my home polling place and vote in person with the rest of the citizens,” he said.
So, Ryan drove north in a stubborn rain on the evening of September 12, and picked up his son who had just finished a philosophy night class.
“The class was on Confucius who was a governor in the province of Lu in China,” Rory said as the wipers flapped. “He encouraged the Chinese people to stop fighting amongst themselves and to help one another out. He governed with the simple golden rule of ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ Confucius preached that message 551 years before the birth of Christ when that philosophy became the Christian golden rule. Anyway, I believe in it.”
Rory explained to Ryan that Confucius was forced from office by the warlords who lived by a darker rule of divide and conquer. “I think we need a governor like Confucius,” Rory said.
That’s why it was important to Rory to travel 200 miles roundtrip to vote in person for Cynthia Nixon.
“I think Andrew Cuomo has done some very good and progressive things,” Rory said. “But I do not like that he takes corporate money because the corporations are the same as the warlords who banished Confucius. I think Cuomo’s feud with Mayor de Blasio is counter-productive. It bothers me that Bernie Sanders didn’t endorse Nixon — probably because he thinks she’s too inexperienced — but I still want to vote for change.”
On the wet and spiraling drive southeast Rory ticked off his other reasons for liking Nixon: Single payer healthcare, anyone eligible for Tuition Assistance Program — which Rory is not — should get free tuition in any public college, a millionaire’s tax to fix the MTA train system, a ban on fracking, and legalization of marijuana.
“Do I think she will win?” he asked. “Probably not. But I’m a Mets fan. And no one thought Ocasio-Cortez would either. I will vote for Cuomo in the general election if he wins but I want my vote in the primary to send a message that a growing number of young Democrats want this party to be more progressive.”
At home that night, watching the late news, Rory said he’d also vote for Zephyr Teachout for Attorney General because she took the least amount of corporate money and could best monitor a reckless Wall Street and Donald Trump’s assorted conflicts of interest.
The next morning as they walked from the car to the polling place together Rory asked Ryan who he’d cast his very first vote for. “I voted for George McGovern and against Richard Nixon in 1972,” Ryan said. “Nixon won 49 states. Including New York. But it felt good having my say.”
“I’m voting for a much different Nixon,” Rory said, laughing.
Then Ryan watched his son sign his name in the voting log. He was handed his ballot and walked to a privacy booth where Ryan showed him how to select his candidates of choice.
Rory marked his first ballot, snapping a phone-photo — not realizing photos were forbidden in polling sites. Then Rory entered his ballot into a computer and watched the screen register his very first vote as a citizen of the greatest democracy this side of Confucius.
A poll worker handed him a sticker reading: I VOTED.
Rory stuck it to his shirt.
“Feels fantastic,” said Rory, fist bumping his old man.
Then a classmate picked Rory up and they drove north to catch an 11 AM class in political science.
That night Cuomo trounced Nixon by over 30 points. Tish James defeated Zephyr Teachout. But progressives picked up a slew of seats in the State Senate which sent a loud message that new young progressive voters — some willing to travel 200 miles round trip in the rain to vote — were making their voices heard. They will be heard again across the nation in November and louder still in 2020.
“Some of my candidates lost,” Rory said. “Some won. I’m still feeling good that I was part of this election by casting my very first vote.”
Somewhere Governor Confucius was smiling.