I’m 25 years old, which means I’ve been able to vote for over seven years—in the last presidential election, as well as several congressional and local elections. But I never did.
This was in spite of being raised in a politically conscious and opinionated family, where voting was something that was taken seriously and political engagement was encouraged. And I was politically engaged. In a way.
Aaron Schock, former Illinois congressman recently deposed from glory due to his nasty habit of spending thousands of taxpayer dollars making his office look like a scene from Downton Abbey and taking interns to Katy Perry concerts, was from my home town and used to jog shirtless on the road I drove to church on Sunday mornings. I developed a bit of a crush on him. The summer I got my driver’s license he had a campaign parade and I went to march in it. I got a free t-shirt with his name on it.
That wasn’t the last of it. I’m not sure if it’s still popular, but when I was in the latter half of high school there was a thing called the “Pro-Life Day of Silent Solidarity.” You put a piece of red duct tape over your mouth with the words “LIFE” written on it in black sharpie, and you wore it around all day. If anybody asked you why, you were to hand them a card that you had pre-printed and pre-cut explaining that you were standing in solidarity with the 4,000 babies that are brutally murdered and the 4,000 women that are permanently emotionally damaged by abortion every day, or something like that. I did it. I made sure to take a selfie.
And then when I went to community college after high school I took a political science class, and I fell in love. This was, tragically, during the McCain-Palin campaign, and having been raised with the sounds of Rush Limbaugh’s tirades floating through the kitchen each and every afternoon without fail, I was, as you might imagine… enthused. Facebook’s TimeHop showed me a status not too long ago that involved me predicting that Sarah Palin would be president. (If anybody reading was in a political science class at Illinois Central Community College with me in the late 2000s, I am deeply, deeply sorry.)
Once I finished that class, I actually imagined that I would go into politics—or at the very least, journalism about politics. But shortly thereafter, I discovered the world of theology, and found that theology was even more fun because it was just like politics in its logical maneuvers but much easier to claim that God is on your side. Not surprisingly, I ended up at Bible college.
At Bible college, I came under a strong yet very subtle separatist sort of strain of Christianity. The logic went that regardless of who sat in the White House or the seats of Congress, Jesus still sat on the throne and God was sovereignly controlling everything. Even further, politics could only go so far. The “social gospel,” as it was derogatorily called, met people’s physical and economic needs but was tragically unable to meet their spiritual needs. You could give people food and housing and education, but they would still be without Jesus. And if you really, truly believe that everyone without Jesus is headed for a literal eternality of hellfire, giving them food and housing and education is a waste of time. Or at the very least, if you do give them those things, you had better tell them about Jesus too. Better by far to spend your energy proselytizing unbelievers and teaching people good theology—good politics, if they ever become necessary (and they probably won’t), will follow.
And this is how I lived for several years. Even after my iconic post-Bible college millennial faith crisis and my break with evangelical Christianity as I drifted farther and farther to the left in both theological and political beliefs, I never did register to vote. Until this last year.
Because I tried to get birth control for the first time.
In my family, you didn’t go to the doctor unless you were a) giving birth or b) literally, actually dying. Unfortunately this is not a good birth control strategy, so I found myself, a complete bundle of nerves, in the pouring rain, plodding up to a randomly selected gynecologist’s office for the first time at the age of 23. She was in network with my parents’ insurance, and she was in her 30s, so I felt like I could talk honestly to her. Those were my two criteria.
I told her prescribing me the pill would be the equivalent of a guarantee that I would get pregnant, because the chances of me remembering to take a pill at the same time every day were less than zero. I got the patch instead. It was terrible. I was sick constantly. But it was affordable. For the couple of months I was on it, I would show up at Walgreens with my prescription, give them $30, and walk away with four more patches that I only had to remember to change once a week.
But after a couple months I couldn’t do it anymore. I made an appointment to get an IUD. I did my best to research the cost in advance, checking to see what other people with my parents’ insurance had paid and trying to calculate what my portion of it would be. I got the IUD without a hitch, and it solved nearly all of the problems I was having. Then, a few weeks later, a bill came.
$900. “With insurance.”
I didn’t have $900 to spare, then or anytime soon. A few months after that a friend of mine without insurance got an IUD at the local women’s clinic, and it cost nothing. I would have been better off not having insurance. But then of course I would have been fined on my tax return the following year. And I wouldn’t have been able to develop a relationship with my gynecologist, who I deeply like and respect. But then I also wouldn’t still be paying for my desire to not be pregnant, which I do not think is too much to ask. My thoughts started swirling. Pregnancy is not the default for women! A child is not a “consequence” of sex! This is all a conspiracy to oppress women! My head spun and spun until all of a sudden it dawned on me like a flash of democratic socialist light:
It matters. Voting, politics, all of it. These high and lofty decisions made by politicians effect real life people everywhere, every day, for better or worse. A copper IUD costs less than 50 cents to manufacture. Hormonal IUDs cost only marginally more. And they are vastly more effective than literally any other form of birth control available today. If the people with red duct tape on their mouths really cared about reducing the rate of abortion, they would want every woman who’s not immediately ready to have children to have one, and they wouldn’t cost $900.
I do realize that this whole thing is extraordinarily privileged of me. I am a woman, but I am also straight and white and (still) Christian, raised in the lower half of the middle class but the middle class nonetheless. To many people who are not me, it has for years been painfully obvious that politics matter, that voting is incredibly important and can determine quality of life as well as access to essential services for millions.
I am now trying to make up for lost time. I now live in Tennessee, and I voted in the primaries. I voted for Bernie, if you want to know, because I am an idealist at heart and especially for the first time, I wanted to cast an idealist vote instead of a practical one. I told the people at the polls when I went that it was my first time, and they congratulated me. I got an “I Voted” sticker and wore it around for the rest of the day. I remembered to take a selfie this time, too.