I remember the moment I recognized the power of one person. It was the introduction of New Coke in 1985. I was 16, and not able to vote — I hadn’t even given it a second thought. I was learning to drive, flirting with boys, lying to my father, the usual teen experience. Then Coke ditched its formula and our house sat down in the kitchen (where all important family discussions happen) to try the New Coke. My single father, myself, and my younger brother exchanged looks. We were not going gently into that soda can.
I drove around town trying to find some old Coke to hoard, but it had been unceremoniously stripped from all the shelves. I found one corner store owner who had hoarded a case and shared my outrage. He reached below the counter, put a finger to his lips, looking at me through the top of his eyes. He looked both ways to see who might be watching and pulled out the signature red can and a styrofoam cup. He opened the room temperature sugar water, and I experienced my first out-of-body experience in that corner store when he handed me that white cup. We shared a Coke and a smile.
My dad kept a case of old Coke he had bought before the fiasco and put it under his bed ‘for special occasions.’ This abomination was something our entire family had to fight. I would see stories in the newspaper or on TV of people having the same experience as myself. We didn’t have social media, but our voices in the schoolyard, in the corner store, at the checkout when I bought Pepsi said what we could say. We voted for Coke to be Coke, as it had always been. We voted by buying Pepsi.
They heard us. When Coke Classic came out, we cleared space in a storage closet to pile cases up in the event our vote hadn’t counted. It had. The people had spoken, and I understood that each of us had a role to play in the company making their decision. We screamed at the cash register.
I have never missed an opportunity to vote since. Every election I wait with pride, knowing, without hesitation, that votes make a difference. I’m not afraid to voice my opinions, listen to others’ opinions, and look up political platforms to make an informed decision. I try on the candidates like I tried the soda options in 1985. Sitting at the table with my family, looking each other in the eye and searching our souls for the moral compass that matches the options in front of us. Voting is important. Believing in something is important. Doing something about it, though, is more important. New Coke taught me that.
I keep Coke on notice, as we should our elected officials. Coke turned their back on me once and they could do it again. And if the last four years have taught the world anything, it’s that our elected officials can change their moral compass to suit their personal aspirations. Make more money? Change the formula? We should all be watching.