When Was the First Time You Became Political?

This week, Talk of the Nation embarks on a new political adventure - and we're asking you to serve as our guides. NPR recently launched a new project called Get My Vote, which invites you to share your thoughts on a simple question: What will it take for a candidate to get your vote? We've created a Web site that allows you to upload your own commentaries in the form of audio, video or text, as well as explore other people's commentaries.

We want you to participate and we plan to feature some of your commentaries on air, beginning this Thursday, March 27. Since this will be our first time doing this on air, we thought we'd frame it by asking you to tell a story of the first time you became political. What happened, and how does that experience influence your politics today?

Here's a video from host Neal Conan talking about the project and how you can join in.

You can share your story and upload your own Get My Vote commentary by clicking on the big button above. And stay tuned on March 27 - you might just hear your story on air!



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

I was a politically indifferent college student in the late 50's. In an effort to learn something I volunteered for a non partisan phone poll. By the time my four hour stint was finished I had become a Democrat because most of the people I'd phone who identified with that party were friendly and chatty. By contrast, when they even took my call, the response of the others who identified as Republican tended to be brief,dismissive and no fun at all. My parents had a fit, but henceforth I was a Democrat and 50 years later that's still a good fit for me.

Sent by Barbara Measelle | 7:48 PM | 3-22-2008

I am a 39 yr. old, college-educated professional and I have NEVER voted in any election, be it local, state or national, and I don't intend on doing so any time soon. Whenever I tell others of my indifference to the political process, I will, most of the time, get frustration and mild anger in return. "Voting is our greatest right. It's our obligation!" That may be true, but my experience has been that those people who run for public office do so out of ego and narcissism. I sincerely do not believe that politicians have the best interests of their constituents at heart. As everyone knows, politicians will do and say anything to get elected, and then promptly ignore those promises and do what THEY want to do. Also, look at those politicians in the Federal Government. Could you honestly say they're representative of the nation? No, of course not. Most every senator and representative is well-educated and wealthy, far wealthier than the people they represent. Only the rich can afford to run for office on that level. That is called plutocracy under the guise of democracy. You'll also notice that, regardless of who occupies what office or which party is in power, nothing really changes. Yes, we as a nation have our ups and downs, but America has always had a sort of equilibrium - in the long run, nothing changes. I love my country, but it doesn't mean I have to participate in, or endorse, the systems that "govern" it.

Sent by Brad W. Jeffcoat | 5:19 PM | 3-24-2008

I wasn't politically involved until my freshman year in college. I started dating the president of the "college republicans". Suddenly I needed to have an opinion on certain subjects. He broke my heart, as all politicians do.

Sent by Jentry | 7:02 PM | 3-24-2008

My first day going to classes at UC Berkeley there were some picketers on strike. I thought it cliche for Berkeley, but I started paying attention to politics. I went for an extreme and joined a feminist club. By the end of my time at Berkeley, I realized that when you believe something to an extreme, there's always someone who believes the opposite just as strongly. I now try to be more objective and try to take in both sides of the political spectrum. I'm still a democrat, but I cringe at extreme liberalism.

Sent by Monica Villanueva | 8:11 PM | 3-24-2008

I graduated from UC Santa Cruz, an extremely liberal university, in 2006. While in college I witnessed protest after protest and while I mildly agreed with them, it was mostly because "that's what all my friends were doing". I never did any substantial research on the issues myself, nor formed an independent opinion. I also did not vote in the 2004 election. Upon graduation (with a BA in Philosophy) I took one of the only jobs I could get, a secretary for a financial planning company in the Los Angeles area. After working there for only a couple of months, I began to have small arguments with some of the people in my office and quickly realized that they were all conservative republicans. It wasn't until I was faced with the opposition did my true liberal colors began to come out. After another few awful months, I quit the job, moved to the San Francisco Bay area and am now studying for the LSAT to get into law school. I am more political than I have ever been in my life and I plan on continuing with this passion personally and professionally in the future.

Sent by Rena | 8:16 PM | 3-24-2008

I have been "political" ever since I can remember. My grandfather dug coal in Eastern Pennsylvania for 35 years; my father worked in a rubber factory for 35 years. My family identified strongly as pro union and as Democratic.
Eleanor Roosevelt and her husband were revered. I have voted in every election since I was age eligible to do so. I have been disillusioned at times but I still vote. Without brave politicians we are victims. We need to find politicians who are not so much perfect but who are willing to make choices to benefit us as a whole people, not only the powerful. I can't understand not voting. It is sometimes are only voice. Townie

Sent by townie7890 | 7:48 AM | 3-25-2008

PS Brad. History is a long time. May I suggest that you are too young to have experienced the power of the people to change it through voting. Maybe that may change in your lifetime if you are open to it. townie

Sent by townie7890 | 7:52 AM | 3-25-2008

I totally agree with this educated 39 yr old. iam 52 yrs young and followed politics since i was nine. I am a former Army man like three generations in my family and a proud american.
The politicians are all the same all talk no action and they never solve anything. Like a hooker on a street corner asking for your money,unlike the hooker they do not deliver the goods. I rest my case. I know this will be censored there is no real free speech anymore in America.

Sent by Vidal | 9:11 AM | 3-25-2008

Brad is right about our American "plutocracy," as far as that goes: we are governed by the rich and (all too often) narcissistic, who may indeed have their own self-interest at heart. But, then, that's the beauty of "democracy", which America -- quite imperfectly -- still is: the rich depend on votes of the poor and middle classes to get elected, and while they may back out on their promises once in office, they'll have to pay for that come second term. Further, the idea that "nothing really changes" may indeed be tempting for 30-something college-educated males like us. But families whose sons get sent to unnecessary wars may have something far different to say; so might the low income people in my neighborhood who depend on the Elected Rich to determine issues like social security, Medicaid, fair wages and workers' rights; so might opponents (or proponents) of abortion rights, etc., etc., etc. True, the juggernaut of our fair country continues in the same direction it has for the last 50 years, broadly speaking. But if we vote from the perspective of those whose lives are dramatically effected by even "small" changes, it does matter. One can participate without having to endorse.

Sent by Nathan First | 9:53 AM | 3-25-2008

I began writing letters to Ronald Reagan in 1984, pleading my case about nuclear disarmament. I was 11 years old.
Later, I shook my fist at the T.V. while some of my peers fought in Desert Storm, I could not understand why Bush Sr. didn't just take Saddam Hussein out. Now, in my 30's with a little sister having been deployed to Iraq twice, I have a better understanding of the complexity of war - and peace.

Sent by Amy McCoy | 10:03 AM | 3-25-2008

I always been a Republican, but I've become increasingly aware that there is no more such thing. I've become political when I realized that it no longer matters who you vote for, the 'silent government' runs this country. The government is no longer 'for the People, by the People". Unfortunately, too many Americans actually think it still is, or think if it isn't, that there's nothing they can do to change it.

Sent by Anthony | 10:29 AM | 3-25-2008

My story lacks the apathy that some others have so proudly displayed here. This one is more about inspiration, and digging deeper. I am 19 and am currently attending a private design school in Los Angeles. Up until I moved out on my own and started college, did I realize what a difference could be made through individuals standing up and voicing their opinions. That was what I found out after I began taking an English Composition class. Our on going assignment that would be due at the end of the quarter was going to be a research paper on a presidential candidate. I was excited by this challenge because I knew that at some point I was going to have to make a choice. The hat was passed around the classroom, in it was the names of every running presidential candidate, (this was back in October when the pickings were plentiful) When it came time for me to draw, I dug deep and came out with Barack Obama. Now at the time I didn't know much.. I knew he was african american, I knew that he had opposed the war, but that was pretty much it. Please don't confuse my ignorance at the time with any sort of racism. I was simply uneducated about what he had to offer, and even more unaware of what any of it really meant. So it began. I started watching Youtube debates, and capaign speeches. I began to see the sort of dramatic effect and engagement that he brought to the podium. People were listening. Young people were listening. I saw how he worked on the ground level, with people that needed help most early on in his carreer. He worked with Republicans to help pass much needed legislation in the senate. He hads defied the odds of him getting to where he is today. But all of this gave me a better understanding of what was most important. I started to understand the issues on the forefront. Economic issues, healthcare issues, the war, immigration. Before I could listen to how Barack sided, I had to formulate opinions of those issues for myself. Where do I stand? What do I believe? Once I did so, I was able to move foward and have a much greater understanding of how and why certain candidates felt the way that they did. I started reading Time.. very reader friendly, and was able to successfully illustrate issues that were happening worldwide. It also gave extensive political coverage so I was able to keep up when I wasn't able to watch Television or open up my Mac. I then upgraded to the Economist, started reading NPR and other un-biased publications that stuck to the issues. The more and more I researched, the more I dug, the better understanding I had of the current state that we as a nation, and we as a planet, were facing.
Then, just like that, Barack pushed me forward. His words, motivated. His sense of community displayed to everyone how easy it was to get involved. And so I did just that, by going to rockthevote.com and registering to vote. And then on super tuesday, I went to the polls to cast my ballot. I walked around for the rest of the day proudly showing off my little vinyl "I voted" sticker to anyone's eyes that happened to wander. What an accomplishment.
From that point on I tried to do as much as I could to encourage my friends, family members, anyone that would listen to not necessarily vote one way or the other, but to simply get involved. I did a speech in an effective speaking class on the severity of voting, and got great feedback. I turned my paper in a few weeks later, and got an A. But at that point, the grade didn't matter. What I had uncovered was so much deeper than that. And from then on, I have followed the campaign trail extensively. Not only Barack's campaign, Hillary's too, as well as John McCain. I do this because unless you have an understanding of all angles, of why peolpe think the way that we do, we will never come to any sort of mutual understanding. We will never be able to successfully work together to achieve a better tomorrow. That sort of bipartisanship has been demonstrated to me by our next commander in cheif, Barack Obama. I've become so passionate in recent months regarding what we as a nation are capable of. I see the potential and now I feel like if we don't plan to make the right steps forward, if we continue with the same policies and disshonest government that has been in place for the past 8 years, then we won't get anything done. We need new leadership now more then ever.
So in closing I must thank my English teacher for inspiring me to dig deeper. She was able to successfully trigger something in me that I can now share with friends all across the board. And a big thanks to all the presidential contenders, GOD or Democrat for illustrating to me how important it is to know all sides of the issues, right or wrong, good or bad. But a big thanks to Mr. Barack Obama for giving me hope for a better tomorrow.

Sent by Andrew Steiger | 12:34 PM | 3-25-2008

Prior to college I was not sure what different political views really meant. However, in my sophomore year of college, I came to a personal realization that I did not fit into the heteronormative majority, and that my access to normal life events, such as marriage and full legal parenting, was severely restricted and further threatened because of the decisions made by people in institutionalized positions of power. At that moment I realized that even the most intimate aspects of my life are affected by those in society's sanctioned leadership roles and the decisions they have the power to make.

I have since become engaged with numerous issues and learn every day that another aspect of my life is immediately affected by the decisions political leaders make. While I, now a young graduate student, realize that politicians are too much alike, too privileged, and too insulated from average Americans by the dense system of the government's status quo to truly effect any fundamental change, I also realize that I must fight with my vote and small powers as a citizen in order to preserve or gain any of the little rights and freedoms that I and others need to survive, let alone prosper in our nation. While none of the politicians available in our system that rewards privilege (of social and economic standing, gender, race, sexuality, etc.) are good enough, it Does matter that we work to put the best possible in leadership roles and keep out the worst, while continually fighting to include those so often denied access to power. These are the reasons that I became aware of the importance of political participation and why I firmly believe we all need to work and continue to push to improve our nation's legal, economic, social and political systems.

Sent by Allison | 2:55 PM | 3-25-2008

I was a non political second grader in the fall of 1960 when 2 excited 8th graders ran up to my locker. "Which one are you for" they demanded, holding up a picture of Richard Nixon, and one of John Kennedy. I took a long look at the faces and pointed to JFK. Been a Democrat ever since!

Sent by Joyce Klisser | 3:25 PM | 3-25-2008

I was 18 years old in 1972 which was the year they lowered the voting age from 21 to 18 because men younger than 21 were dying in Vietnam, being sent over via the draft without the right to vote whether or not this was right. I was so excited to play a pivitol role in something so important as that. I've never missed the opportunity to have my voice heard and vote since.

Sent by April A. Baranoff | 4:51 PM | 3-25-2008

I was trying to finish growing up in the mid-60's and was stymied because I lived in a vastly conservative and oppressive community. My father had us block walk with him for Goldwater. My older sister had gone off to college, worked in Washington, D.C. for the summer, and had an opposite influence on me than my surrounding environment and Republican parents. During this time I was being pulled in different directions, I was listening to the news on the radio (back when they had news on the hour); the announcer said that U.S. troops had dropped tons and tons of bombs on North Viet Nam, hoping to hit an ammunitions depot BUT couldn't be sure because it was the monsoon season and the cloud cover was too thick to see where the bombs actually landed. In that one moment I became a pacifist and quickly ended up as the paid state office manager for McGovern (subsequently replaced by Bill Clinton after McGovern got the nomination). The "ah ha" moment still burns in my memory, so much that I can remember where I was driving at the time I heard that news story.

Sent by Patty Ryan | 5:27 PM | 3-25-2008

My real first political act was to write a letter to President Richard Nixon protesting the "secret" bombings of Loas during the Vietnam War. The newspaper was full of protest the nightly television screen was full of protest and despite the fact I was from a small, rural, conservative county in the Western US, I guess I just got caught up. I was 12. In response the White House sent me a form letter and a Nixon family picture. I don't remember the letter but the photo stayed on the dartboard in my bedroom until Nixon resigned in 1974.

Sent by Ed Wren | 6:04 PM | 3-25-2008

I first became political at nine years of age, on November 4th, 1979, the day that the Iran Hostage Crisis began). I remember it very well; November 4th happens to be my birthday. I started wondering who the Shah was, who the Ayatollah was, and why my Dad was glued to the TV set on my birthday. This led me to read a great deal of American and world history, and I began reading the newspaper and watching the news. I've voted in every election since I was 18, except for one that I missed due to events beyond my control. When I went of to college I started listening to NPR. I've paid attention to political events ever since my 9th birthday.

Sent by Richard Thomas | 10:48 PM | 3-25-2008

An environmentalist from an early age, I thought the most pressing problem facing my city (New York) was air pollution. There was at least one obvious solution, I thought - we needed a monorail! So I sat myself down and wrote Mayor David Dinkins a letter on my little pink stationary with hearts on top, requesting that he kindly consider alternative methods of transportation. I don't remember if I received a response, and we obviously never did get that monorail built, but 15 years later I'm still political.

Sent by Molly Chafetz | 10:51 PM | 3-25-2008

While I've voted in every election since I was eligible to do so, I was never particularly political - until 1992 when Pat Robertson spoke at the Republican Convention. I was so incensed at the narrowness of his vision, effectively shutting the doors of the Republican tent on millions of people, that I've voted the Democratic ticket ever since with no regrets.

Sent by Lynn Pierson | 11:44 AM | 3-26-2008

I don't remember a time when I wasn't aware of politics. My father was actively involved in local politics, a member and then later, chairman of our local township board, then a supervisor representing our district in the county we lived in and finally, as chairman of that county board of supervisors for ten years. Although our nation's focus is on the presidential campaign, how about our individual focus? Watching my father wrangle with local politicians, doing his best to inject 'common sense' instead of 'ego-power driven' decisions was a lesson to me about the difference of working for the people, a true public servant, versus 'a politician'. What happens at the local level, townships, city, and county, school boards--those are places where anyone can make a difference..to be a public servant, to serve rather than to rule.
My dad taught me that. He aligned himself with the Republican party, but I believe in my heart, that he was neither Republican nor Democrat. He was beyond politics...he was his own person. So for those who have chosen not to vote because 'things' never change, consider getting involved locally. Get educated about the local issues, listen, and then consider public service through involvement. I am my father's daughter, affecting one life at a time changes the whole world.

Sent by Carol Bauman | 11:52 AM | 3-26-2008

I actually remember being fascinated as a kid while watching the political conventions on television. I wrote my first letter as a freshman in High School to former President Truman and actually received an answer from him! When I was a Senior in H.S. I walked into a campaign office for a local County Supervisor race and walked out as Supervisor of Precincts. More responsibility than I had ever had before...and I was hooked for life!

Sent by Phil Johnson | 2:05 PM | 3-26-2008

I was in grade school when Lyndon Johnson initiated the War On Poverty. This coincided with my beginning to learn about the Sermon on the Mount, specifically the Beatitudes. Growing up in a Christian household reinforced the connection I saw between the best part of the Judeo-Christian traditions and the liberal, hence Democratic part of the political spectrum. There are commandments from Christ in the Bible for us to feed the hungry, heal the sick, give to beggars,and to turn the other cheek. If we live in a nation that is "of, by and for the people" then by extention our government should be one of our mechanisms to facilitate helping those in need with vast quantities of scale. It is necessary for individuals, local groups and faith communities to act also. This is so that we keep our government and ourselves honest. The Right, moreover the religious Right uses hard line doctrinal positions carved from St. Paul's epistles to strong arm legislation that widens the gap between rich and poor and attempts to narrow the definition of what is acceptable for a Christian nation. This they do while they talk about defending freedom. Thank you for asking for our responses. I hope that you get a lot of postings.

Sent by Luke Maas | 11:34 PM | 3-26-2008

The first time I became political was in the 11th grade when I had to testify in front of the State, City, and County councils for a school project. Each coucil proposed cuts to human services and I had to form an opinion about the cuts and present possible alternatives to the councils complete with visuals, songs, poems and any other way to creatively get my point across. It was an amazing feeling being squished in like littele sardines with like-minded people. Waiting for hours to speak. The most amazing feeling was after all was said and done and a few Human Services were saved. I really felt like I had made a difference. That project really taught me that it was my civic duty to stay involved, informed and empowered. It showed me the power that one voice, as well as many, can have.

Sent by Casandra M. Shannon | 1:10 PM | 3-27-2008

During the VietNam war my family attended a middle class, suburban Presbyterian church. I wrote a letter to the church "paper" about spending a huge amount of money on a new organ, and suggested programs for the poor would be more appropriate. The pastor would not print the letter, summoned me to his office to castigate me for questioning the workings of the church. Since then I've maintained my liberal leanings, and never trusted organized religion again.

Sent by Chris Groner | 2:14 PM | 3-27-2008

I remember sitting in the hallway of my college residence hall in 1969, talking with several of my sister Resident Assistants. As we talked about the daily news, including the civil rights marches, I heard that one of the three young men who was killed by the National Guard in Orangeburg, SC, was the younger brother of one of us RAs. Only a couple of years earlier, the killing of this innocent young high school student (only a few miles from where I lived) meant little to me. That day the awful reality of brutal hate and racism became a reality to me. From that day on, a young liberal developed in my Izod dresses and my Pappagallo shoes. Today I will introduce Hillary Clinton when she speaks on the economy in my state of North Carolina. My lifetime of activism, and my belief that America must always strive to become the dream we envision, began in college on that day in 1969.

Sent by Julianne Still Thrift | 2:25 PM | 3-27-2008

I was always told if you don't vote you have no right to complain.
The first time I really recall being aware of politics was when my 2 sisters and I walked to my grandmothers after church. Our friends, 3 other little girls the same age as us (5,6and7)came over to grandmother's the same as usual after church. My mother had a 'Vote for Kennedy' bumper sticker on the car. One of our friends tore the bumper sticker. We wanted to go over and tear off their Nixon sticker but weren't allowed to cross the street. We decided we had to go in and tell our mother and grandmother instead. We were then given a lecture that every one has a right to their opinion but you should respect that opinion. We got a new bumper sticker. I've been Democrat ever since.

Sent by Lori Wienkes | 2:42 PM | 3-27-2008

Living in the Washington, DC area it was -- still is -- impossible to not be politically aware. I was a voracious reader and was probably more aware than any of my peers.

I grew up in the late 40's and graduated from high school in 1959. My father was a virulent racist who worked hard to bring me on board as a "n....." hater. Kids listen to their dads, and when I went to Washington Senators baseball games at Griffith Stadium I kept a wary eye out for these "awful" people. Griffith Stadium, by the way was in the heart of black DC. I kept looking game after game and never saw a bit of what Dad told me about.

I was a faithful reader of the Washington Post Sports section and the funny pages. I was reading the great Shirly Povich when I was 11-12 years old and took note of his urging both the Washington Senators and Redskins to integrate their teams. I started taking note of how my teams were getting thumped by integrated teams and actually came on board with him.

I also discovered another cartoon in the paper. It was on the third from last page and the artist was Herb Block. I even started reading the editorials at about 12-13 years of age. I wasn't even noticing what was going on, but I had been developing my political point of view. I can't recall exactly which of Mr. Block's cartoons did the trick, but all of a sudden I realized, "They're thinking the same way as I do". My liberal point of view had been validated by all these people in the Post.

As I had long thought, my Dad was wrong, very wrong, and these guys in the Post were right! The black people I had been friendly with at Senators-Indians (the first American League team to integrate -- they drew lots of black baseball fans)games were just like me, only darker. I was perfectly comfortable walking around their neighborhood, shopping for R&B music in the original Waxie Maxie's, eating in the restaurants and going to shows at the Howard Theater. At that time I happily installed my strong liberal philosophy and at 66 I still proudly proclaim my "bleeding heart" liberalism.

I wrote a letter to the editor of the Post at the occasion of Mr. Block's death, some of which was published. I had become a liberal but needed someone to let me know it was a good way to be. Mr. Block validated my point of view and, as it turned out, a big chunk of the way I've lived my life. Thanks again, Mr. Block.

Sent by Michael Baker | 3:11 PM | 3-27-2008

My political views have been shaped by my social consciousness. My social consciousness has been shaped by the family I grew up in and the times in which I grew up. When a child disagrees with the family ideology we become members of a larger family. When I was ten years old, I could ride the municipal bus, by myself, to downtown Austin, Texas, to go to a movie on a Saturday. One Saturday, I tried to give my seat to a very tired looking, older black lady who got on when the bus was almost full. I was in the front and she would not take my seat. Blacks rode in the back of the bus. This was 1956. When all the authorities agreed and it was contrary to my social consciousness, I think this is when my political consciousness began. Is not politics the conduit to change?

Sent by L. Nicholson | 3:23 PM | 3-27-2008

I grew up in Califonia and while attending high school, my history/govrnment teacher talked me into representing my high school in a California school project called "model United Nations". It definately opened my eyes to how cut throat politics could be. It along with the Nixon adinistration soured my opinion of politics, until I realized as Ralph Nader says " If you don't turn on to politics, politics will turn on you"
Thank you,
Russell Crossan

Sent by Russell Crossan | 6:05 PM | 3-27-2008

I am aware of being politically interested at the age of 8, in 1980. My political and economic interest grew slowly and solidly. Last year, I became deeply concerned about our economy, wars, meddlings and foolish policies. Ron Paul was the only candidate to ever spark my deep enthusiasm. I would say that 2007 was the year I really woke up.


Sent by Eric in Providence | 11:06 PM | 3-27-2008

I think I first really became interested in politics in the mid 1980's,when I realized that the "War On Drugs" was a war against me and most of my friends. (Former stoner) As I got older and started paying more attention, I started to see more and more the Republicans pandering to religious factions and to big business at the same time. Then they managed to get a man elected President who can barely form a coherent sentence,or run a baseball team. I decided that I have to do anything I can to keep these people from winning any more elections.

Sent by P Miller | 10:52 PM | 3-28-2008