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My first vote as a U.S. citizen 

Tiffany Cooper, an organizer with N.C. PIRG, at N.C. Central University in Durham on Election Day

Photo by D.L. Anderson

Tiffany Cooper, an organizer with N.C. PIRG, at N.C. Central University in Durham on Election Day

A little more than 20 years after moving to the United States, on Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012, I finally became a U.S. citizen.

Some speechifying, mercifully free of corniness and condescension, and one amber-waves-of-grain inspirational video later, my fellow new citizens and I lined up for our certificates. The man from Guyana tucked his American flag into his breast pocket, held his certificate aloft and kissed it, while the women from the League of Women Voters handed out voter registration cards.

The very next day I spent the evening looking up candidate websites. I had put off this research (in true American fashion) because I had assumed I wouldn't get naturalized in time for this election. But in a rare instance of forethought on the part of North Carolina, citizens are allowed to register and vote on the same day during the early voting period. This enabled me to vote in my very first election ever, presidential or otherwise.

And yes, the presidential race is one of the reasons I shuffled down the citizenship path. I was born in Canada, not a shabby country to find oneself born in, all things considered. Prior to this year, I had never felt like my living here, but not voting, mattered in a presidential election. But it does now, because Obama won North Carolina in 2008 and the polls show he's neck-and-neck with Mitt Romney now.

Suddenly, because of the goofball Electoral College, the vote of a single left-to-center Obama supporter like me could tippy-tip the entire state and country. Power-hungry, I sent my naturalization application and $680 (yes, it costs that much) this past summer and crossed my fingers that I would make the deadline. I did.

On Friday, Oct. 19, I sauntered to Carrboro Town Hall. I couldn't resist telling everybody I had just become naturalized, I was getting to vote, aren't you thrilled? I am! And that was that: an application, interview, test, citizenship ceremony, a bit of Internet research, seven minutes at a friendly polling joint, and one "I voted today!" sticker later, I was finally legit enough to call people out if they were derelict in their civic duty—and not be a hypocrite about it.

As a musician and an artist, my work often focuses on the unreliability of memory, the smudgy edges of history forgotten or misremembered. I kept having conversations that felt like some sci-fi menace had wiped clean the memories of people I knew. The Bush era just happened—but all I was hearing was Obama's inability to fix everything quickly and perfectly.

It is easy to get cynical about the slow rate of change, but we owe it to ourselves to make sure that kind of eight-year misery doesn't happen again. So, as much for this country as for myself, I became a citizen to do my small part in making that possible, through the simple act of voting.


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