Lindsey Okubo, 23, Writer

On the Election & Voting for the First Time

by @lindsmalia

 

I have never voted before. On the morning of election day I found myself first on the floor on my yoga mat and then behind a red, white and blue curtain. Sweating out what felt like all of the anxiety that had accumulated since the beginning of this election was cathartic. The stress of it had clogged my pores, it became a gnawing part of my subconscious that made me hyperaware, hyperemotional, defensive, hopeful and isolated, all at the same time. After those 75 minutes of listening to indie-calm music and a semi-ditsy voice instructing me to contort my body in-between negative and positive space, comfort and pain, I could finally leave all of this, whatever it was, behind. My sweat puddled on the floor and based on how I felt, it might as well have been blood. After class, I showered and got into my car. On the 15 minute drive to my polling place I listened to NPR, there was a lot of talk, a lot of numbers,many predictions but I don’t know if anyone was really saying anything. I waved at a large, Polynesian lady sign-waving on the side of the highway and shook my head at a lone soldier in the highway’s median yelling inaudible things over Frank Ocean’s, “Solo”, playing in my car. He held a sign with “TRUMP” emblazoned with angry, defiant, red letters on it. I was texting my mom when I parked my car. She and I have had a rocky relationship since my parents got divorced when I was two and I haven’t seen her in over a year but I found refuge and a sense of pride in being able to share this moment with her, six hours apart (she lives in Virginia), 5,000 miles away. “Wow, this is a historic election….awesome way to start!!!” she said right before I walked into the elementary school cafeteria that had been transformed into a polling place. My heart swelled. All around the cafeteria there were handmade posters with definitions of words like integrity, diversity and community, written in innocent, recess obsessed handwriting. The lunch tables usually occupied by seven year olds were instead filled with many senior citizens volunteers who smiled at me as if they knew that I was a virgin voter. Walking over to the sign with last names, N-S on it to get my ballot, I handed over my ID. “Okubo… Okubo…. Okubo…Hmm,” said the volunteer with a puzzled look. I wasn’t on the list. Turns out I was at the wrong polling place. Panic shook me momentarily as I thought, if I don’t vote, Hillary might not win. (Logical) Here was a certain responsibility that I hadn’t felt before in regards to politics. Calm down, Lindsey. 

The anxiousness I felt died as I backtracked and got into my car but the feeling was soon re-kindled as I saw the line snaking its way out from another elementary school cafeteria. I exhaled. The ballot felt heavy in my hands and I remembered coming to this same cafeteria as a young girl with my dad on election days past. Glancing at the bottoms of the curtains at the footwear choices of everyone casting their votes felt like being a part of history, just as I had pictured it. I stared at Hillary’s name and the filled-in bubble beside it long after I had finished my ballot. I thought about my 95 year old grandma getting to see the first woman we’d call, “madam president" seated at the helm in the Oval Office. I thought about friends I knew who had gotten abortions. I thought about one of my favorite college professors who canvassed for the first time in her life and wrote an amazing piece about her experience. I thought about watching the results with my dad and the rest of the country tonight, finally being able to feel the relief that I had promised myself on my yoga mat that morning. The line to actually submit our ballots was long but no one complained. I clutched my folder to my chest closely. No one was on their phones. The silence was broken only to say hello to a neighbor or for people to make small talk with the volunteers working, “good turnout”, or “I’ve never seen it like this before,” they’d say. The volunteers responded, “it’s been like this all morning and we’ll be here all night.” Their dedication and hidden excitement filled me with what would turn out to be a false promise of change and progression but I didn’t know that yet. Getting to the front of the line, I acted like I knew what I was doing. Sliding my ballot into the box didn’t feel like a proper goodbye to what was my first real exchange with democracy. I didn’t even get an “I Voted” sticker but I realized that you don't need an adhesive backing to feel supported.  I texted my mom back and she told me that she was proud of me, proud of us. 

First it was Kentucky, then it was Indiana. It was still early and the sun had not yet gone down in the Hawaiian sky so I brushed it off, went to walk my dog, laughed at a few memes on Twitter, tried to ignore people’s panicked Facebook statuses. As the sun began to dip lower into the sky, reality became a little more visible. He was winning. CNN became almost unbearable to watch, the numbers appeared close but somehow he was still leading by thousands of votes and thousands more had gone to third-party candidates. We watched as analysts scoured Wisconsin for votes only to find that 100% of the polls were in, where could we get more votes from? No one knew what was going on, what to do except to tweet and re-tweet, to post a photo of Hillary on Instagram or to share a statistic on Facebook. We pointed fingers, thanked our parents for citizenships in other countries, texted friends across the world in despair in search of some sort of comfort, to know that we weren’t the only ones crying, yelling “FUCK YES” to Van Jones’ comments on “White-lashing” and feeling utterly hopeless. The whole country watched as it was announced that she wouldn’t speak tonight. The whole country watched as he rang in his presidency with an all male and very white cabinet. We feared for what would happen to the Supreme Court, if those seats would be filled with conservatives who would take away rights and deport families. And wait, was the wall still really a thing? 

This morning I awoke to texts from a friend in France, including a picture message of her crying face. The message said, “me right now. She just spoke. It was so sad I’m so sad for her.” It was 6:56 AM in Hawaii and I had already missed her concession speech even though Youtube’s existence begged to differ otherwise. Sitting on the toilet half awake, tears filled my eyes as soon as they saw hers. She was strong, still fighting, still calling on us to carry ourselves with a sense of purpose and renewed strength even though the windows to her soul were tear-stained and devastated. I cried silently as my boyfriend was still asleep underneath the blankets beside me. Obama would speak next and again we were all met with words of encouragement to continue, to rise up. He disappeared back into the White House as millions watched, begging him not to leave. The country was filled and drained within a matter of minutes.  

I turned to social media. Someone photoshopped Hillary into an Alexander Wang “GIRLS” top, publications like Vogue and W took a political stance for the first time ever, Rihanna and other stars aligned with our fight making them feel more human, more reliable and vaginas became synonymous with voting to name a few highlights. Being in Hawaii during this period of time has been challenging, leaving me feeling isolated and disconnected from a fight that I feel so strongly about.  I felt helpless as I saw videos from the marches in New York City, knowing that my friends were there, walking a historic line towards a narrative that only hindsight could glorify, I wanted to be there, I wanted to stand with them but instead I found myself arguing with surfers about abortion, arguing with a vegan about why Trump is worse than Hillary, arguing with a friend about why it mattered that he didn't vote. Doubt crept into my mind, did I even fully understand the pain my friends and those marching felt? I didn't grow up feeling marginalized nor have I really waded in those waters for a prolonged period of time. Could I call myself an activist? The Hawaiian in me (or lack of) prodded me to think otherwise....

...until I unlocked my iPhone. The Internet, the chance to interview girls like you out there reconnected me with the greater good of this community. It gave me the sense of empowerment that I often don’t find here in paradise, so thank you. Graphics showed that majority of the population within the 18-25 year old demographic had overwhelmingly purple hearts, scarred and valiant, we voted blue. While I am at a loss, currently having to text clients (including women aged 40+) about a line of tropically, printed clothing being released at a local boutique I work at on Friday, I feel an imperative need to write, to share stories, to connect with people. In this age that is and has become encompassed by all that is 2016, we more than ever have a duty towards each other to accept, to represent, to stand by each other and to empathize. I am mad, yes, but not simply because of the election’s results, I am mad that we can still call people “ignorant” in this age of information, that people don’t understand their privilege, what that even means and what it means to not be playing with that same deck of cards. For many of us, this was the first election we really participated in, we watched the debates, we tweeted, we expressed our views and were met with acceptance and disgust, we realized that hey, we don’t know that much about politics. But with that being said we now have a real chance to do something about it because all of our struggles have been brought to light and it’s through magazines and groups like this where real change is going to come about. So let's connect, send me an email, add me on Instagram. Virtual tears don't stain, so now, together and apart, we fight.