I will never forget the first time I voted for president of the United States.
Brooklyn‘s Avenue M bustled with its usual energy on this first Tuesday in November in 1972. Many crossed the street from the train station to Waldbaum’s to pick up what they needed for dinner. Others pulled two wheeled shopping carts filled with fruits, vegetables, Hostess cupcakes and Wonder Bread. Many had Marlboros in their jacket pockets and Archie comics for their kids.
If you wanted the restaurant experience you headed for Cookies and gathered by the coffee bar. Others leaving the train station whipped out a smoke, disposed of their crumpled newspapers and went on their way. The train station was the focal point of Ave M for everyone … it was our family meeting place each day at 5 p.m.
Chuck Schumer, now the senior U.S. senator from New York, had been there that week. A newcomer to the political scene he shook hands, answered questions and urged everyone to vote for George McGovern. My dad remarked that he was the most talented politician he had seen in a long time. “That fellow is going places”, he said as he gulped down an egg cream at the station’s candy and magazine section.
“Today is your big day,” my dad said as he smiled. He was proud that I wanted to take a stand against the Vietnam War by voting for a Democrat. Another progressive vote. It was worth raising me!
My parents and I walked around the corner to East 19th street between L and M avenues and saw people patiently waiting on line. There was a booth with a curtain that closed when you pulled a lever. As I voted for the first time I was overwhelmed with a sense of importance. I had arrived … my opinion counted.
This was my way of protesting an unjust war. College marches were not enough to make a difference. I thought of what it must have been like for those who could not vote. The voting booth represented freedom and equality for all.
Richard Nixon won re-election and the war continued for another two years. The country was not ready to take a progressive stand. But pulling that lever was exhilarating. I was adult enough to give my opinion and make it count. I hope young people will get out there and take a stand on the issues that are important to them. It does matter who the president is. It does affect you.
Weinberger is a North Woodmere resident.