To all the 18- and 19- and 20-year-olds out there, whose first chance to vote in a national election is Tuesday, here's a little nudge. Do it. Show up late for basketball, take three buses to get home, make it an extra-long weekend, but vote.
I know what you're thinking: Blah blah blah. Heard it all in civics class. But this Tuesday is different. You can make history by voting in the Massachusetts Democratic primary for either a black man, or a woman, to run for president. Of course, if you don't like either of them, you can vote for somebody else. (You'd never know it, but there are others in the race.) And if you are a Republican, it's still an election you should be part of. You will tell your grandchildren about this election one day.
So what does it mean? Not much, really. Just everything. Inspiring, that a smart, tough woman like Sen. Hillary Clinton is a viable candidate for the first time, sure. But, even more inspiring, an African-American man, Sen. Barack Obama, appears utterly confident that he can be elected president. And, here's what's amazing: so many other people -black, white, Asian, Latino - believe it, too.
Imagine how Martin Luther King Jr. would feel if he were alive at this moment. Or Rosa Parks. Or the thousands of black people who were turned away from the polls for mean and hateful reasons in the past, or who were lynched, or who died during the civil rights struggle. The three young civil rights workers murdered by the Klan in Mississippi in 1964. The four little girls killed when white supremacists bombed a church in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963.
Imagine how Bruce Wright would feel. You may not recognize his name, but Bruce Wright applied to Princeton University in 1939, back before colleges were crafty enough to require photos with their applications, so they could weed out "undesirables." So Wright, an excellent student who happened to be black, was admitted by mistake - because there were no black students at Princeton in 1939. When Wright arrived to enroll that September, the dean of admissions pulled him out of line, saying, "You don't want to come to a place where you're not wanted." Wright went to another college, was awarded a Purple Heart in World War II, and eventually became a state Supreme Court justice in New York, so being humiliated by Princeton didn't prove a fatal blow to his ambitions. But you just know that Wright, who died in 2005, would have loved Tuesday anyway.
So, as you're heading off to get breakfast on Tuesday, wondering whether you should bother to go vote or do your laundry instead, think about what this election means.
Tuesday is a day to be proud. Regardless of the outcome, Tuesday will be a very good day. If you don't like Obama, or Hillary, vote for somebody else. Or, vote for John McCain or Mitt Romney, if you absolutely must (just kidding).
We have all been told for years that it's a privilege to vote. And so it is. But this time - this time feels different. Don't miss it. Vote.
Julie Kimball, a freelance writer, is the author of "45 Minutes to America." She lives in Oak Bluffs.