After coming of age during the Trump administration, these Michigan sisters said they couldn’t wait for their first chance to help elect the next president.
LANSING, MI — Lansing sisters Shoshie and Jaquelin Fox-Long woke up Tuesday with a good feeling.
They would both be shaping society in a new way on this sunny winter day. It was their first presidential election to vote in.
These sisters, both 20 and adopted from Guatemala as infants, were voting in Michigan’s presidential primary election March 10: While Shoshie had her clear choice in a candidate all along, Jackie’s decision wavered all the way up until she cast her very first presidential ballot.
What brought them together was not just the journey hitting the polls together for the first time or a common candidate they liked, but the experience of coming of age during President Donald Trump’s reign in the White House over the last four years.
They both were looking for something different.
They let The ‘Gander follow them to the polls on Election Day to see what the experience would be like as first-time voters in Michigan’s presidential primary — a race that had all eyes on the state this week.
Before the polls, Shoshie and Jackie told us they’ve seen first hand how difficult it is to embrace your identity when it’s under constant threat from the powers that be. But, their hope was that as first-time voters in the presidential primary, they could show others how easy it can be to show up and voice your opinion on the issues you care about.
The status quo is not good enough for either of them. So they made their voices heard.
Why these sisters couldn’t wait for this election
Both Shoshie and Jackie described wanting to see a more inclusive and empathetic society develop in the next presidency.
“I think this administration has brought [collective power] to light, has brought people to say, ‘Now, that’s not right,’” said Shoshie, a Lansing Community College student planning to transfer to Michigan State University’s School of Social Work in the fall. “It’s always been there, but now it’s more movement toward, ‘we need to end this.’”
Jackie, who’s transferring to Columbia College to finish a bachelor’s in live sound in the fall, opened up about how she felt when Trump came into power four years ago.
“I remember being a little scared, just because Shoshie’s and my background,” Jackie said. “We were a little nervous about that … All of my characteristics have been heightened … everything I’ve been feeling.”
Shoshie summed it up: “I remember I woke up to the news [of Trump’s election], and I was scared because I knew exactly what he stood for, and just like what Jackie said, he’s pretty much against what Jackie and I are. We’re technically immigrants, we are women of color who are adopted and who are Jewish. So you might as well paint a red X all over us.”
Feeling the power at the polls
Despite the injustices they’ve both seen coming of age over the last few years, Shoshie and Jackie say they still feel powerful and strong — perhaps now more than ever.
“I’m excited to vote for Bernie Sanders because as a Jewish man, he’ll be the best representation of diversity in the White House,” Shoshie said moments before casting her ballot.
“It’s very empowering that we’re able to vote and be proud of who we vote for,” said Jackie.
By the time the sisters met at home on March 10 to walk over to their polling location, Jackie had made up her mind to cast her vote for Bernie Sanders as well – not Former President Joe Biden, who she originally was energized by. She was now more inspired by his empathetic stance toward refugees and the Central American families she and Shoshie had been watching. Bernie Sanders would be their first presidential pick.
“As someone who’s not from this country, I’m excited to see humanity at the borders,” Jackie said.
It was a super easy five-minute stroll on a breezy, sunny winter day to their polling location, Elmhurst School, a former elementary school that now serves as a community learning center.
Walking in, Shoshie and Jackie said they were astonished that the place was empty, save for good-natured volunteers who nearly jumped out of their seats to get them started with the process.
With the general lack of activity, volunteers were glad to shephard Shoshie and Jackie from station to station as they checked in and settled at their polling booths.
Soon enough they emerged with their completed ballots and were snapping pics at Elmhurst School’s dedicated Selfie Station with their classic and well-earned “I Voted” stickers.
The whole process took less than five minutes.
“It was easier to vote than I expected,” Jackie said. “And I would say that voting doesn’t take a lot of time. Having an opinion and having a say in how we want our future to look is important.”
A hope for a society that celebrates their identity
“I’m proud of all my diversity, all that I am. I try to be honest with everyone and true to myself.”Jackie Fox-Long
Surrounded by a very supportive adoptive family, these sisters grew up in Michigan with values that they say empowered and celebrated their multiculturalism.
Lately, though, they haven’t seen those values reflected in American society.
“I’m proud of all my diversity, all that I am,” Jackie said. “I try to be honest with everyone and true to myself. My family supported that [growing up]. Shoshie and I have always been a little different from the family due to our skin color. But being told, ‘Hey, you’re different, and it’s okay. Be proud of that.’ That definitely helped us accept that.”
While their family has always encouraged Shoshie and Jackie to be proud of their Latin heritage and Jewish traditions, the sisters said they have witnessed attacks on their communities across the country over the last four years have shaken them.
“Bernie Sanders was at a rally recently and someone was holding up a swastika flag. And then Charlottesville,” Shoshie said. “And every night of Hanukkah this year, there was some sort of Jew who was practicing Hanukkah who got harassed or beaten or had racial slurs used toward them.”
The growing national threat against the Jewish community has infiltrated the sisters’ lives.
When neo-nazi and white supremacist Richard Spencer held a rally at MSU, the synagogue Shoshie and Jackie attended prepared to be desecrated.
“We had our Torahs taken out of the building,” Jackie said.
They distributed them among the board members, Shoshie continued.
“We had the 10 Commandments in a gold plaque so we had to take that away,” Shoshie said “We took everything down. And now we have police officers every holiday. They park a car there. Everyone has to punch in to get in. It used to just be an open door, but now it’s locked all the time.”
“You’re preparing something that’s supposed to be for community events and for children and for nonviolent stuff, but you’re preparing for it to be trashed and to be disrespected and hated.”
In addition to seeing their religious identity under threat emboldened by people like white supremacists, the sisters have been watching Central Americans fleeing their homes on foot to suffer human rights abuses at the Mexican/American border.
“For me personally it was the caravan that happened recently,” Shoshie said. “My parents were talking about it one day … and [my dad] told me that it was very logical that if Jackie and I didn’t get adopted, we could be in that caravan.”
The sisters have watched as young Guatemalan kids die in custody, they shared.
“So just things like that, it just really gets to you,” Shoshie said. “I remember my boss [at the synagogue] … when that was happening, she hugged me and said, ‘Are you okay?’ She was like, ‘I’m just so glad you’re here.’”
By the time Election Day came to a close, the sisters said they felt empowered as they were able to voice the sum of their perspectives in a presidential election for the first time.
“Change starts with every individual,” Shoshie said. “Young voters: no matter what, let your voice be heard.”
They’re looking forward to seeing movement toward a more inclusive society, they said. That means they’ll be ready to vote Nov. 3, 2020 in the general election.
And maybe, along the way, they’ll inspire others to make their first votes, too.