My palms were sweaty as I made my way up the pathway to the house. I was in an impoverished neighborhood in Naples, Florida. Weeds brushed against my pants as I caught sight of abandoned toys and a decrepit-looking doghouse. My arms were full with pamphlets and sample ballots in English, Spanish, and Creole. Behind me, another volunteer kept pace as we approached the front door. I could hear a television blasting and children crying. Here goes nothing, I thought to myself.
As soon as I knocked, a barking dog joined the cacophony, and all I could hope for was that the people inside would keep it there. A woman's voice bellowed in Spanish, "WHO IS IT?" I knocked again, hoping she would come to the door. A few seconds passed and a woman with a stare aimed to intimidate opened the door. I explained in Spanish that I was a volunteer in a political campaign, and her stare softened. Her husband came to the door and told us he had not voted in eight years. He was willing, but needed a ride to the polls. We put him on a transportation list, assuring him that someone would be around on Election Day. He thanked us, and then shuffled back inside the dim house. One house down, 300 more to go, I thought. At age 16, my tumultuous and fascinating involvement with politics had begun.
Although I was too young to vote, I became interested in the crowded and competitive race to the presidency in late 2007. With 17 politicians running from the Democratic and Republican parties, and with lingering memories of the voting chaos of the 2000 presidential election that occurred in my home state of Florida, I knew this election would be historic. When school began the following year, one of my close friends suggested that we volunteer on a local campaign. What I thought would be one hour every day after school turned into seven and eight hours, doing everything and anything the campaign coordinators needed. They needed bilingual volunteers to go door to door in the poorer neighborhoods to see if voters needed help with transportation to the polls, and I could do that. They needed people to canvas all around the city to raise support, and I could do that. They wanted people to stand at busy intersections with banners and signs, and I could do that! Not only did they need people to volunteer, I needed to volunteer. I wanted to be a part of the bigger picture.
When I arrived at Queens as a freshman in the fall of 2010, I discovered that the two student political clubs had been inactive since the 2008 election, and nobody seemed interested in revitalizing them. I knew something had to be done. I submitted the necessary forms and found myself leading an interest meeting for one of the clubs. Within the same week, the other club was revitalized as well. Today, about 90 students are involved in the two clubs.
As the granddaughter of Cuban immigrants, I am well aware of how politics can personally affect the lives of real people. I know that if I am unsatisfied with the way things are going in my country, I have the freedom and the right to change them. My grandparents did not have this luxury when they fled Cuba in the 1960s, and I am not about to take their sacrifices for granted. We are incredibly fortunate to have a system of government that allows us to stand for what we believe, fight against what we cannot support and voice our opinions.
And we have the right to go door to door, changing one life at a time.
Emmie Horadam '14 is a sophomore majoring in political science and comes from a family of both Democrats and Republicans. As president of College Democrats at Queens, she is looking forward to the Democratic National Convention which will be held in Charlotte in September 2012.