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Government & Politics
Your Voice Ohio is a collaboration among newspapers, television stations and radio stations, including WKSU, to change the way issues that affect you are reported.

Current Political Climate Excites and Concerns a First-Time Voter

photo of Theresa Cottom
AKRON BEACON JOURNAL

The day I turned 18, my AP government teacher wished me a happy birthday and handed me a voter registration form.

Gee thanks, I wanted to say, but politics aren’t really my forte. I didn’t understand it, didn’t care for it, but most of all, didn’t think my vote would make a difference.

Almost three years later, my editor asked me to sit in on discussion groups the Beacon Journal held to watch the Democratic and Republican candidates deliver acceptance speeches. I had my reservations. Should I tell him that crumpled registration form never made it out of my backpack?

But if any election were to spark my interest, this is the one.

Between cartoon-like candidates and savage insults, in some strange way, it’s been the perfect segue from the reality TV-filled world of millennials to the daunting adult world of politics.

And this year, unlike years past, I care about who wins. I’m worried, even, to choose between two candidates with a history of dishonesty and corruption.

So when I sat in on the final night of the RNC, surrounded by a diverse group of mostly people older than 30 who had voted several times, I was shocked to find the insolence of this election had launched many back to a level of political callowness I know well.

“I guess, in a sense, I feel like I’m a newbie in politics. Now, I feel like it’s a tirade a lot of times. Nastiness,” said Sylvia Gage of Akron during the RNC. “I get upset with myself because I want to be understanding.”

“I feel like I’m watching reality television,” said Sharon Gandee of Akron. “I prefer the civility of the past.”

These thoughts reverberated into the next week during the DNC.

Over the course of the two days, I listened to members of our community feel duped by the media and their presidential candidates, echoing a political cynicism I felt just three years prior.

More than anything, though, I saw concern.

These people wanted answers that no one — neither candidates nor media — had provided. How will Trump create the millions of jobs he promises? What is Clinton’s motivation behind free education? Who will better guarantee homeland security?

Suddenly, the crowd was not so diverse. Each opinion and worry was personalized, reflective of the separate lives they’d lived, yet all so focused on the future of us, our children and our country. One woman even broke down in tears after talking about 11-year-old speaker Karla Ortiz, thinking of her own children and the impact this election could leave on them.

While some thought of the potential impact of this election, I, along with others, thought of the impact it has already made. Though undeniable fear and doubt have been incited in this cycle, I can’t help but appreciate the responsibility it’s planted on me to take action.

“It’s your duty,” said Deborah Jones from Youngstown during the DNC. “If you don’t vote, you shun all these people that fought to get you to where that is your right.”

Those words never rang truer.

Each person at these meetings contributed something — a hope, a fear, a voice.

If just one of them sits out of this year’s election, though, those expressions ringing through each of their ballots would be muted.

It’s so easy to say one vote doesn’t matter. But in this election more than ever, a vote represents the voice of an individual — voices that challenge candidates to answer hard questions, voices that demand answers.

I’ve heard the diversity of responses in Akron and know the diversity in Ohio is even greater.

As media companies like ours work to listen to your concerns and engage in further conversation, it’s vital to make your voices heard.

So talk back. Let us know what you need to know. Challenge us and your candidates to answer the questions you have.

But most of all, despite two presidential candidates with historically low approval ratings, use your right to vote as a vehicle to launch toward the change you wish to see.

One day before the RNC began this year, I covered the African-American Cultural Festival in Akron where, as people feared what the convention may hold, someone under a tent asked if I was registered to vote and handed me a form.

And this time, I didn’t stuff it into my bag.

This is the first presidential election I’m eligible, and I’m using it to make my voice heard. 

 

This story from the Akron Beacon Journal  is part of the statewide media collaborative, Your Vote Ohio.