Condoleezza Rice, who served as Pres. George W. Bush’s National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, recently turned down an invitation to deliver the commencement address at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, to the dismay of many would-be First Amendment scholars and free-speech purists. Her reason? The wide-spread student protests that greeted the…
I just voted.
Walking into my polling place, an elementary school gym, I couldn’t help but feel a little sad and a sense of defeat. I consider myself lucky to have a schedule that accommodates a leisurely midday visit to the polls. I’ve never seen a crowd or a line at a polling place except on the news from time to time. So at least there wasn’t a long wait, but it was all just kinda … funky. The polling places I’ve visited are musty, ramshackle rooms, having been hastily set up like some sort of governmental carnival, reeking of being temporary and ready to be torn down again as soon as the day is over. They’re staffed by volunteers who are, in my experience, elderly and perhaps not moving with the swiftness one looks for when waiting on perfunctory access rituals like searching names, addresses, and checking IDs. The voting staff is usually peppered with a few young sprites as well, bursting with energy and excitement that not only seems a bit out of place in the environment of ballot boxes, but also serves to highlight the sluggishness of their co-volunteers by contrast.
The polling place is always peppered with posted admonishments of “No Electioneering,” and I confess to having a badass streak that questions governmental authority and will leap at the chance to go against it if told that I’m not supposed to do something, so I have to fight the urge to electioneer my ass off.
The voting process itself can feel anticlimactic, like some antithetical end to months of campaigning and media coverage. I always think of the trazillions of dollars candidates spend on flyers and mailers and those despicable television commercials that get more and more insulting of their opposition as Election Day nears. I wonder what would happen if they could simply be about what they stand for and get their message out in a more positive fashion than those commercials, the worst of which are indiscernible from Saturday Night Live shorts in their style and tone. I lament the fact that much of what they’re fighting for gets lost in the publicity because our society largely thinks that negative attention and insulting your enemy garners more attention than simply stating one’s own case.
I think about all of these things, and I can’t help but think that a lot of things about voting sort of suck.
BUT YOU HAVE TO VOTE.
OK, it’s not up to me to tell you what you “have to” do. But please vote. Like, pretty pretty please with sugar on top. Those musty rooms? Deal with it. People spent their time and energy to set up those booths because once upon a time it was decided that We The People had a say in how shit goes down here in America, and voting is the foremost way to have that say. Is it strange at times to line up to enter the rec room of a strange middle school? Sure. Do it anyway. I’m grateful to not have encountered a line, but if you do, chances are you have a smartphone or some other device to keep you entertained, because this is America, goddammit! Hey, in some futuristic melding of technology and theme, you could even be reading this right now as you wait to vote! I’m cheering you on through these words, and I invite you to join me in a rousing medley of “We Are the Champions” and “Proud to Be an American.”
The volunteers at our polling places are doing an amazing thing in helping us fulfill our American-ness and especially in donating their time to do so. I don’t care if someone is a hundred years old, I’m grateful that they’re there, and when my mind wanders to the impatient place I mentioned above, my heart and soul quickly offer it several seats because it’s pretty amazing that because I’m registered to vote, my government reserved a space on a list for me to do so, and there I am on the USA VIP list. Did it take an extra moment to find my name? Who cares?! Move that velvet rope aside and let me in the club because I’m on the list.
If this all sounds very cheerleader “rah-rah-rah” and maybe a bit Pollyanna-ish, I’ll take that. But I want to remind you that my personal optimism is borne of a brutal realism and even a touch of cynicism and plenty of hurt. This country was stolen from Native people and built with the literal blood of our ancestors.
Once upon a time, we couldn’t vote. Not long before that, we weren’t even legally recognized here as full human beings. And we were only brought “here” in the first place by unspeakable abominations and systemic dehumanization. I have no rose-colored view of America, trust me.
As a black woman, the pure indignities upon my people delivered by the good ol’ U-S-of-A are immeasurable, devastating, and in some cases, still in progress. By certain accounts, my country hates me. But it is still my country. And since I’m still here, I’m gonna be here vocally, and I hope you are too. On today, November 4, 2014, I would rather say something and do something than not. I’d rather exercise the right that I can only call my own because people I’ll never meet fought in the streets for it than lazily lament the state of the union. Yeah, lots of things suck. But if you didn’t vote, can you even complain?
If you haven’t already, check your status and find your polling place here, and if it’s a little wack when you get there, build a bridge and get over it. How lucky we are to have this right, and it usually doesn’t even take that long! Oh, and regardless of the age, demeanor, or disposition of your polling place volunteers, you look them in the eye and say “thank you.”