parker johnson 779902 unspl - The Rite of Passage

In 2001, I experienced my first election. My father ran for local office and won, a milestone in our family history that I embarrassingly cannot recall detail of. Then again, I was three going on four years old. I had grown a full set of baby teeth, was able to dress myself and feed myself, but cannot say I could do much else. My days were spent watching Teletubbies, Bananas in Pyjamas, and The Powerpuff Girls. 

My father ran and won again in 2004; I was six years old. There are memories but they are faint, brief moving pictures from a six-year-old life: new friends as I started the first grade, singing along to the Disneymania CDs with my sister, and weekends following my father and mother as they conducted their duties as the Mayor and First Lady of the city.

I would lie in bed and pretend to still be sleeping no matter how much they tried to wake me up to tag along with them. On Saturdays, I would say children like me need to rest because we had school all week. What did you do in school this week, my mother would ask. Well, I would explain, we painted in art and we played during playtime and we read a picture book during English and so on, so as you can tell I am quite pooped and need to sleep in.

All of that was to no avail because when you are an average six-year-old complaining that you had a tough week in the first grade the average adult probably had it tougher and are not accepting playtime and recess as draining work.

My father was busy during the week getting home late and leaving home early in the morning. He was busy on weekends too, and not busy because of some homework but because of real work, something elementary me just could not understand. My mother encouraged us, the children, to spend weekends at the office so we would find that time to be together as a family, or we would tag along to activities that us, the children, could join.

During the elections, I experienced growing up. The campaign activity my father seemed to enjoy the most was going house-to-house. I say “seemed to enjoy the most” because when I was younger it seemed to me that it made up a lot of his campaign activities.

Recently talking about the experiences of our “past lives,” as I sometimes feel it is, my mother told me that going house-to-house helped him reach the goal he set out for himself. It was not to be in the most photographs, not to have his name mentioned the most times in the paper, not to have the most posters or to speak at the most events, no.

His goal was to shake the most hands.

To have that brief, intimate moment face-to-face with a person. In that brief moment anybody can say a kind word of support, a harsh remark, a thoughtful question or concern, introduce a pressing issue that they care deeply about in a few words, a noteworthy critique, to name a few.

His goal was to shake the most hands and meet the most people face to-face, he would see them and they would see him, without filters and without barriers between them.

In 2013, my father retired from public office and since then has not sought re-election. We have a lot of fond memories, and I learned so much during those formative years, but now we serve our countrymen as private and proud citizens.

So where am I going with this not so little trip down memory lane?

During the last general election, I was still studying in London. I volunteered at the Philippine Embassy, going to Suffolk Street past the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square to place stamps on envelopes for mail-in ballots for registered overseas voters, collected them when they were sent to the Embassy, and was in the room during the official video feed when the Ambassador announced the results to the Commission on Elections (COMELEC).

But this Monday, I was not a volunteer, I was a voter. I stepped into a school and casted my ballot, experiencing what it is like on the other side of that handshake as the constituent.

I had not shaken any of the running candidates’ hands, but it is 2019 not 2004 anymore. There is the Internet and social media, the dissemination of information and misinformation is right at our fingertips through a mobile device instead of a handshake.

The COMELEC data showed that young voters, aged 18 to 29, comprised 31 percent of registered voters, just one percent off the largest demographic, which are Gen Xers aged 30 to 44. We the youth are often described as “plugged in,” defined by the prevalence of technology and interconnectivity throughout our lives, which we can be used to our advantage.

Growing up I saw, and even experienced in my own way, how much hard work went behind campaigning and working as a public official. But the voter is in no easier a position.

In the hands of the people as a whole, not individual candidates are our nation’s future. Each vote an essential part of that whole, each vote a voice that matters.

The only way to make the best use of our vote and our voice, to find hope in, frankly, an imperfect system, is for each person to educate themselves. We need to educate ourselves about the issues and the people we want to tackle the issues.

There are infographics and tables that have tried to simplify it. I must confess that I am not a fan because it is misleading to even suggest that it can be simplified in that way. These are multifaceted people we look to tackle highly delicate issues, no shoe fits all. And because of space I am not even talking about the issue of fake news and misinformation.

I used to say that because of my family I grew up “involved” in politics. Only now do I realize that what I experienced before was nowhere near as “involved” as I am in politics now as a voter. The eligibility to register to vote at the age of 18 marks the beginning of a rite of passage for the youth, the future of the nation entrusted in our hands, a right we as a people fought for.

The franchise involves tough decisions that require us to engage in our own research, to make our own educated and informed judgments that have the youth going beyond looking for familiar names. There is no equation, no weighting for factors to consider, there is not even a definite list of factors to consider.

Being the youth is one of the toughest positions right now as we are thrown into a world where we need to be wise beyond our years. The general elections may be over but as the youth we need to prod, to question, to engage in stimulating debates (and be open to others’ opinions and even open to our own opinions changing), to be interested and curious in our nation’s future because that is our future.

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