By: Shipra Sharma
I was 8 years old when I realized my family and I were different than what was then considered an ideal American. The year was 2001, and the world had suddenly changed. For the first time, I realized the color of my skin was different than my peers. I realized my Indian heritage made me different than my WASP counterparts in my small New Jersey town. Back in 2001, different was not considered good. If you were different, then you had to work extra hard to find a sense of belonging – and for an 8-year old that was important. I spent the next decade growing up in Lawrenceville, NJ trying to forge an identity for myself that was built on false pretenses of wanting to belong. My family had started to immigrate to the USA in the early 60s, and my parents joined the others in the 80s. Although by 2001 my family had established a well-settled life in the land of dreams, our neighbors did not look at us as their own. For me, in 2001, my family had already established their status as Americans. I knew I was Indian because of my family, but I identified as an American. I pledged my allegiance every day to the flag of the United States of America, yet I still was told I am not American enough. I knew in my heart and soul that I was just as American as the white people who lived in my town, despite all the ridicule and side remarks of my nationality. At 8 years old, that is all I knew. However, at every milestone of my life, I had to prove it. Existing as a “different American” rejected an identity that was my birthright. In school, they taught us that America was a melting pot – a country where it did not matter what religion, ethnicity, color, or sexuality you associated with because ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL. Growing up, I realized the reality of that was far from the truth.
Being an Indian Hindu girl in New Jersey post 9/11 had its own set of challenges, but having to prove my worth as an American – that took gold in that race. Whether it was running for student class president or just trying to make friends with the kids in my swimming classes, I felt different and that was only because those in my community viewed me as different. In theory, we are told to celebrate diversity, but, in our daily lives, how much of that celebrated diversity do we enjoy? Practically none. 7 years later I realized why that was the case. Diversity was not celebrated because the individuals we elected to lead us were not diverse. It was 2008 and the first African American man was elected to lead our country. President Barack Obama accomplished what may have seemed like the impossible, but he did so nevertheless. His victory, although a monumental moment in American history, also opened the eyes of many millennials to the systemic racism running deep in our country. President Obama – a graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, a successful Illinois state Senator, an energetic US Senator, and the first Black Man to be President of the United States. A man with such tremendous accomplishments was still criticized at every move during his presidency. From accusations of not even being born in the country to being degraded by the worst of racial slurs, the critique President Obama faced was undoubtedly racist in nature. There is no doubt in my mind that if his skin was white, he could get a lot more done without the constant backlash and resistance. His presidency was to herald in racial reform and justice, but the constant resistance of his political colleagues hindered that change. Decades after the Civil Rights Movement, Americans were finally becoming more “woke” and outspoken about the systemic racism existing in America. President Obama’s constituents relied on him heavily to be a champion for change. Although hope existed for the racial divide to be bridged within our country in his two terms, the reality of America’s deeply rooted inequal racial values overrode that hope. He may not have done everything necessary to solve the issues of race, but he surely reignited the conversation and the movement amongst the American people. His presidency also emphasized one important fact: diversity in the race is strongly needed in politics and government. The hope and courage President Obama gave our country to speak about what matters allowed for voices to finally be heard – voices that were muffled before, and that is what his legacy consists of.
While President Obama’s presidency made me aware of race relations in the country, it was Senator Hilary Clinton’s campaign as the Democratic nominee for President of the United States in the election of 2016 that, in the words of Billy Joel, started the fire within me to advocate for change. Although the policies of Senator Clinton were not something I full-heartedly agreed with, I valued her drive, her success, and perseverance in this brutal man eats man world of politics. Extremely successful in her own regard, the former First Lady ran an honest campaign. Yet, like it came to racism in President Obama’s term, sexism and misogyny were blatantly consuming the election in 2016. Many political pundits and leaders during her campaign implied she could not be a good fit for President because she was a woman. She was subjected to sexist rhetoric throughout the election season. Her looks and demeanor were highly scrutinized, whereas her competition did not receive similar commentary. It made me question why our country still looks at females in such a degrading light. The answer was quite simple – our country runs on the views of misogynistic white men. According to a US News report highlighting the Reflective Democracy Campaign, “Despite white men comprising only 31 percent of the population, 97 percent of all Republican elected officials are white and 76 percent are male. Of all Democratic elected officials, 79 percent are white and 65 percent are male, according to the study.” The United States of America is considered to be one of the most progressive countries in the world. However, the only population type to enjoy these luxuries in freedom are white men. It is innately unfair that the rights of women and the control they have over their lives is highly dictated by the white men who sit in Capitol Hill.
As a 27 years old engineer now, I have learned to realize one unfortunate truth – the worth of an individual in this country is largely dependent on the basis of sex and race. The past four years under the Trump administration have confirmed this notion. President Trump’s whole brand is built on a foundation of hate. He’s consciously been racist at many junctures in his life. One notable incident during his presidency has been when he demeaned a Black distinguished CNN political analyst and White House Correspondent, April Ryan, during a news conference by calling her a “loser” and “nasty”. Let’s not also forget how the beginning of his campaign and presidency rested on a wall being built on the Mexican – American border. His statements on that matter included Mexican immigrants being “rapists” who are “bringing crime” and “bringing drugs” to the US. He has outwardly shown support to many white supremist groups. President Trump’s administration has broken the homes of many American families and ruined the future of many immigrant children by detaining them in inhumane and cruel conditions. Trump at many instances, along with his staff, has referred to the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus”. Trump has also expressed hatred towards the Islamic community, which was seen when he proposed a travel ban on those coming from several Islamic countries to the USA. He pushed the rumors of President Obama not being American. He has also made several derogatory comments towards women, such as “grab ‘em by the p****”. It does not stop there. His presidency has seen a severe increase in the violence against the Black community. Civil unrest has grown tremendously during his leadership; yet he has not spoken once about how he supports the victimized community. Instead, he has supported the oppressors and aggravators. Trump’s personification and implementation of hate in the United States of America has damaged our country in a debilitating way, wiping away the improvements and progress his predecessors made.
In 20 days, the next President of the United States of America will be elected. This election will single-handedly be the most important election of our generation thus far. There is so much at stake with this election, such as the rights of women, the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, the rights of Black people in America, the rights of Muslims, and many more. The rhetoric of our incumbent is that of hate, and there is no denying that. The very nature of our democracy has been corrupted severely in the last four years. We may sit back and think that we don’t matter, but we do. Our voices matter. Our thoughts matter. OUR VOTES MATTER. If everyone voted, the change would be inevitable. It’s 2020, unlike what Capitol Hill portrays, the United States of America is no longer a WASP majority population. Our incumbent may still execute his power as if it is still 1776, but his type of actions and ideals no longer match those of the greater American population. It is time we elected leaders who reflect the differences in the American people and celebrate that diversity proudly. At 27 years old, I look back to 8 years old me. I want to ensure the future of our country does not ever make another 8-year-old question her identity and worth. I want to elect leaders who will listen and who will stand by me regardless of the color of my skin or my sex. If by simply voting I can ensure that the future for children in this country will be better than mine, then there is no reason to not vote. So, please vote. JUST DO IT. (and do it early)
As we lead into Election Day, I want to start a 20-day campaign to highlight the issues that matter to me and why I am voting this year.
Day 1: Women’s Rights
As I stated before, President Trump has ushered in a presidency that has not been supportive of the rights of women. Although we have crossed a century since the Women’s Suffrage Movement, women still do not have complete control of our own lives. In this day and age, women are just as, or sometimes even more, qualified than our male counterparts. However, with the ideals and policies of President Trump, the quality of life and the rights of women are digressing from progress. During his presidency, President Trump has appointed two Supreme Court Justices, with a potential third appointment. Because of these appointments, the Supreme Court will hold a conservative majority, and issues such as Roe v. Wade will most likely be affected. His appointment of Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh introduced, again, white men to the bench who are pro-life and against institutions such as Planned Parenthood. In fact, Brett Kavanaugh was accused of sexual assault, and despite that he was nominated. As a result of the allegations, President Trump ridiculed and rejected the #MeToo movement and called it damaging. As a young woman, I find that appalling. I refuse to let men who do not acknowledge the plight of women or men who do not respect women create rules for me to live by. It’s my body. It’s my choice. It’s as simple as that. In the last four years, policies attempting to completely defund Planned Parenthood have been introduced. Although he’s been unsuccessful in defunding it completely, he has still taken away some of the protections Planned Parenthood holds and has redirected its funds to anti-abortion clinics. Women’s access and coverage under their insurance for birth control has also been affected. Under the Affordable Care Act, insurances were required to include access to birth control, but Trump is supporting corporations that do not want to include that in their insurance policies.
The most concerning issue with his presidency and a continued term will be his appointment of Judge Amy Coney Barrett. In an unconstitutional maneuver, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is determined to push for her appointment. Judge Barrett will replace the renowned Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In her tenure, Justice Ginsburg has been a champion for the rights of women. Up until her last days, she worked tirelessly to ensure that the basis of sex would not determine the lives of fellow Americans. By appointing Judge Barrett, the movement “Notorious RBG” propelled forward will be taken back several decades. Her appointment to the Court will create a rightward shift in its decisions, which will be of concern when it comes to cases regarding the Affordable Care Act or Roe v. Wade. According to a study by FISCHMAN & COPE, Judge Barrett holds extremely conservative views when it comes to civil rights, gun rights, and rights of women. When it comes to abortion, her views can be detrimental to many women. She has tried to implement a state law that will ban abortion for women who even need it for life-threatening reasons. Her judicial approach is a strict interpretation of the Constitution, with no room for personal interpretation, which in this day and age is an archaic approach to the Judiciary. Times have changed drastically since the Constitution was first written. In one of the biggest landmark decisions in terms of constitutional law, Chief Justice Marshall famously penned in his McCulloch v. Maryland case of 1819, “we must never forget that it is a constitution we are expounding.” In 1819, a Supreme Court Justice recognized the importance of expounding the Constitution. In 2020, another Justice wants to come in and stop that.
So why am I voting this year? I am voting to ensure a strong future for all women in this country. I am voting to ensure that I and my future daughters/grand-daughters can live a life of equality. I am voting so that the basis of sex is not a determining factor in my worth as a human. I am voting because I am a woman and I want to be in charge of how I live. I am voting because I want my body and my reproductive rights to be protected and controlled by me. I am voting for me and I am voting for all the American women out there. I am voting so that America can move forward as opposed to turning a time table and digressing.
Why are you voting?
For more information about voting and creating a comprehensive voting plan, check out https://www.vote.org/.