The first time I ever voted was 2016. I was 30 years old. Here’s my take on what it’s like as a new voter.

I have never felt like the two-party system accurately represents the people in this country. I used to say, “Give me someone worth voting for and I will vote.” Enter Bernie Sanders: 2016 was the first time I ever felt compelled to tune into the debates or follow the candidates, and to my surprise there was one person who was actually talking about things that I care about and think about.

Also to my dismay, he had chosen to run as a Democrat. I even stood in line for 45 minutes in Albuquerque to listen to him talk. The last time I had gone to a rally of any kind was when a kid, only there because my parents wanted to be there.

I registered to vote for the first time in my life so that I could vote for someone like Bernie, and I chose Democrat because it was the only way to vote for him. After voting I immediately changed my voter registration status back to DTS (“declines to state”) because I am not a Democrat.

I even wrote him in on the ballot after that party chose Hillary Clinton. So many people told me that I “threw away” my vote but what they don’t understand is that I was not voting blue or red; I was voting for a man who actually represented a lot of my personal political beliefs.

That year the Democratic party, with Bernie’s help, got more young voters and new voters to register to vote than ever before. And that year we felt betrayed by the Democratic Party when they chose Hillary Clinton.

When 2020 arrived and I learned Bernie was back for the presidential race, I made sure I was registered. Again, I waited to change my status to Democrat just in time to vote and then immediately changed it back. Again, I was let down by the Democratic Party when Bernie dropped out of the race and the party chose Joe Biden. However, watching the last fours years of the current administration has filled me with horror and disgust.

Candidates for president are supposed to be the best of the best, the very best we can offer the country in terms of strong leadership. And what we got instead as a choice was Trump and Biden. It’s disappointing to me that for the first time, I decided to vote in that manner. It was only the second time I had ever voted for president.

The United States of America is more than just a two-party political system, and there is more than one way to take action. I am writing this to help represent a body of people that I don’t think many people like to talk about: the people who don’t vote, or who are very new voters.

So what should you say (or not say) to your friends who are on the fence about voting?

First off, stop telling us that we are throwing away our vote if we vote for one party or the other. Both parties say the same thing and in reality what both want is more people to vote. So just stop.

If you want us to vote, let us pick for ourselves. We are not necessarily committed to one or the other political party. Hell, we may prefer a “third party” or to vote for both Democrats and Republicans—and it shouldn’t even matter, because at least we are participating.

Second, stop telling us to “vote blue” or “vote red.”

We are learning how to participate. It would be of more value if you helped educate us about how the process works. And if you really want to talk to us about the party, focus on an interesting person or two and not the entire party. Teach us why you think that candidate is a good pick. Talk about what they will do in office, what responsibilities they have and what they are invested in.

In other words, talk to us about actual issues, and not politics. I didn’t register to vote for politics. I registered because I care about the issues. Don’t talk down to me or assume I don’t understand issues just because I’m new to voting.

Third, stop using emotional warfare. I am not going to choose a party based on fear. I’m not interested in debating trigger issues like abortion or gun control with anyone. I have my opinions about them, like everyone else, but I do not see the value in debating morals.

Here is the bottom line: I am not a Socialist. I am not a Liberal. I am not a Democrat, and I’m not a Republican. I am just a woman who cares about building a sustainable future and the planet I am leaving behind for my son.