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You can't smear hope

A defaced bumper sticker tests one young voter's resolve.

October 25, 2008|Bree Barton | Bree Barton writes the blog Bree Barton at the Ballot Box for the Dallas Morning News.

At 24 years old, I'm a bona fide member of the Facebook generation. I spend several hours a day plugged into my laptop, consider my iPod an indispensable part of my wardrobe and frequently shell out $100 for organic groceries. One more thing: I'm registered to vote.

Young voters have gotten a bad rap over the last 30 years, but justly so. In 1971, the 26th Amendment lowered the legal voting age from 21 to 18. If citizens were old enough to die in Vietnam, weren't they old enough to cast a ballot? As a result, record numbers of young people showed up at the polls in 1972.

But in the years since, the youth vote has dwindled -- 9% in 2000, according to a recent study by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE). We just don't seem to care. In the 2004 presidential election, I know I didn't. In 2008, things have changed. This election cycle has seen a surge in young-voter interest. The CIRCLE study cites a rise in turnout this year to 17%.

Paul Gronke, executive director of the Early Voting Information Center at Reed College, told the New York Times that there are "more African American, Hispanic and the young" among the early voters. Early voters have typically been an older, higher-income bunch. The presidential race has become important to people my age -- we're talking about it, blogging, watching the debates. Why? Because this year, we've dared to hope.

Both presidential candidates offer their own brand of hope for the future. I chose to believe in Barack Obama's promise of change. That's why I put an Obama '08 bumper sticker on my car. I saw it as a symbol of hope -- my hope -- that the political process is worth my time and energy. A sticky strip of plastic was my statement that yes, I'm young, but I give a damn.

So when someone smeared an "N" on my sticker and slashed through the "O" -- making it NOBAMA '08 -- it felt like a slap in the face. All it took was a purple marker to transform my message of hope into something ugly.

Yes, it's just a marker. But as I bent over my bumper, trying in vain to rub off the permanent ink, I got angrier and angrier. I had spent 30 minutes scratching off the remnants of former stickers to make way for my newly crystallized political conscience. When I finally decide to raise my voice, is this how it's silenced? By some anonymous assailant with a marker?

In a race in which the smears are multiplying, smudges on a sticker may seem unimportant. But the blotch on my car seems like an attempt to undermine my newfound faith, leaving a nasty streak on my beliefs.

A smear works by circulating a doubt designed to chip away at a voter's confidence. Sure, purple scribbles aren't the same as being "Swift-boated" in 2004, and they bear little resemblance to the mysterious phone calls in 2000 accusing John McCain of fathering an illegitimate child. And no, it isn't on par with the vitriolic e-mails I receive linking Obama to William Ayers and the 9/11 terrorists. But essentially, it has the same effect: My budding belief emerges a little bruised, tinged by cynicism. Maybe politics is really about defacing each other's dreams.

And then something strange happened. As I stood facing the smear on my vehicle, you might say my passion for this race grew a little fiercer. Instead of erasing my hope, the ink only made it more indelible.

I won't let a coward with a purple marker defile my beliefs -- that's old school.

On Nov. 4, I vote for the future of my country.

Tomorrow, I buy Wite-Out for my car.

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