Your vote counts: The country you save, may be your own

by Christine June
415th Base Support Battalion

I was stationed in Washington, D.C., during an election year and the voting craze was everywhere, even in the water. I managed to avoid it until a close friend reminded me of something I had learned in junior high.
It was Friday night and instead of vegetating in front of the TV, I was having dinner with Nah at a Vietnamese restaurant.
Before we could even comment on the weather, the waitress asked for our order. The conversation, or more accurately, the battle, began as soon as the waitress left.
It all began innocently enough, with Nah explaining that she had registered to vote that afternoon. Having just become a new citizen, Nah was excited about the whole voting process.
“I thought registering to vote would really be complicated. But, I filled in all the information, showed my certificate of naturalization, gave my oath, and that was it. It took five minutes, if that.”
She was talking about voting, of all things. My mind was racing on how to change the subject.
“I’m listening; I’m listening.”
“I’ve been trying to read about the views of the presidential candidates. It takes me over an hour to read one article. I have stacks and stacks,” using her hands, she exaggerates how tall they are, “of newspapers and magazines to read. I just hope I can figure out who I’m going to vote for before the election. I’m not sure who…”
Oh no, not again. I just wasn’t in the mood for a political discussion, especially on voting. By this time, I was tired of this “voting craze” not just from Nah, but from everyone. Even John Cougar Mellencamp, the guy who sang “Hurt So Good” was telling me that I should vote and that my vote counted. Who was he kidding? My one little vote meant absolutely nothing in the big scheme of things.
Something just told me that I had been caught not paying attention again. Sure enough, Nah was looking right at me.
“You’re not going to tell me again that you’re listening?”
“No, I wasn’t listening.”
Her voice was weaker. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s just that I’m tired,” I was about to say that I was tired about this whole voting thing, but just in time, I changed my mind, “it’s been a long week at work.”
“I’m just so excited about it, and I’ve never done it before. And, I … I just want to talk about it.”
I lowered my eyes. Played with my fork. “I know.”
Nah respected my wishes and changed the conversation to a safer topic.
Nah had just gotten a job as a secretary and was taking night classes to become a computer programmer.
No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t enjoy the conversation. I had never lied to Nah. I mean I didn’t come right out and tell her that I wasn’t going to vote, but I knew she thought I was going to.
I couldn’t bear it any longer. “Nah, I’m not voting this year.” Or any other year for that matter, I added only to my thoughts.
She didn’t say anything.
“Nah, it’s not that big of a deal.”
In a voice that didn’t seem to belong to her, Nah said, “my parents would have given anything to have been able to vote.”
“This isn’t Vietnam. What happened there won’t ever happen here.”
“How can you be so sure? America is only 200 years old.”
“Age has absolutely nothing to do with it.”
She didn’t look at me. She just sat there, staring. “What does it have to do with?”
“Strength. America is strong.”
Why is America a strong country?”
I had expected Nah to be angry, not to question me in a cold, calculated way.
“Because the people have the power, not the government.”
Quick as a mountain lion, Nah leaped toward her prey. “How do the people exercise that power?
It was over.
I knew the answer, and of course, Nah knew the answer. But, neither of us said anything. We just stared at each other. The waitress cleared our table and asked us if we wanted anything. Neither of us acknowledged her. After a few seconds, she left.
Then, I dropped my eyes and quietly said, “they vote.”