Tuesday, November 04, 2008

My Story of American Democracy - the post-vote post

I voted!!!! It was fun!!!!!!
I should preface this by saying that I take voting rather seriously. I'm not militant or anything; I don't even vote in every election, but I think voting--informed voting--is important. My birthday is April 9. I registered to vote on April 12 of the year I turned 18. Instead of registering to vote in New Brunswick, which would have been more convenient for big elections, I stayed registered in Sparta, so that I could vote for open space and farming issues and other things relevant to an area about which I was more informed than New Brunswick.
I've been thinking a lot lately about 2004. Partly because that was the year of the last presidential election, and partly because, going through "moving boxes," I uncovered a bunch of issues of my favorite hipster Rutgers newspaper with a small following, from 2003 and 2004. I was going to chuck them immediately, but I've been reading them for nostalgia, for the still-funny humor sections, and for the music recommendations. (That's the great thing about hipster/indie music--it's still cool four years later.) Nostalgia has taken over so much that I've been reading the no-longer-relevant not-so-current events pieces, and therefore remembering the last election.
I planned to get up early, dress nice, and go vote with a PASSION! and then go hiking or something. Instead, I got Day Off Syndrome (similar to Winter Break Syndrome from college life.) Realizing that I did not actually have to get up before sunrise, I turned off the alarm, told the dogs they could go for a walk later, and went back to sleep. Then, when I woke up, I fed the dogs and went back to bed! Proceeded to loaf around reading the paper. It's like, "I am ALWAYS active. I NEVER get to loaf around! Why can't I do that now? Why do I have to be active, even if it's for things I want to get done!? I'm TIRED!"
Then I couldn't find my sample ballot, which I meant to review last night, because although I knew which presidential candidate I was voting for, I wanted to vote for local representatives, too--as an educated voter.
I couldn't find the sample ballot anywhere!
So this morning, I was really grumpy because I got a late start and was about to go check off Obama like every other young person and I could either vote, uninformed, in the local elections, which would be lame; alternately I could just check off "Obama" and ignore every other page of the ballot, like many young people, and that would also be lame.
Also, I was thinking about four years ago. It was my first presidential election. Remember what people kept saying about that election? That we were voting between the lesser of two evils. Lesser of Two Evils. That's all anyone said. I felt I had to vote in the 2004 presidential election, but I was miserable about it. The night before, I spent hours on the Internet researching each candidate, praying I'd find something to make me love John Kerry, but I just kept finding more and more to hate about BOTH candidates. When I went to my hometown to vote and stood in the booth, I felt tearful. What a terrible way to remember one's first presidential election!
BUT! everything was different this morning, when I got to the polling place. I parked at the library because the lot at the polling place, my former middle school, was full. I walked up the hill past SUVs parked in not parking spaces, feeling grumpy at them. Grumpy that my vote barely counts because of stupid electoral college blah blah blah. Obama will probably win NJ whether I vote or not, I thought, and the popular vote won't do a damn thing! I was both grumpy and proud (like it was an act of subversion) to be standing on line to vote in my heavily Republican hometown.
As I stood on line, I looked at my surroundings. It was my old middle school. The stage on which I played Mae Peterson in Bye Bye Birdie looked exactly the same. The little old ladies running everything, checking off names, were dressed up and seemed to be wearing their Election Official nametags with pride.
A woman had brought her toddler with her to vote, and she was talking to him, quietly, while going through the process. I think she let him hit the Vote button and she let him hold the eletric pen thingamajig at one point. He was chattering in half-words, and I realized that he wasn't saying "Mama, mama" but "Bama, Bama."
When I was next in line to vote, an elderly volunteer in a red blazer and lots of jewelry came in. She was furious, ranting about how it was such a shame, all these young people voting for Obama just because! "Did you set her straight, Bev*?" another volunteer asked. "No, we got into an ARGUMENT!" I was annoyed--I wanted to say, "How do YOU know young people aren't informed voters? I'm voting for Obama too, SO THERE!" But I didn't. I was distracted as I saw the ballot, and the volunteer took my number. There the names were--it seemed much more real than before. Barack Obama and Sarah Palin--the first non-white-male-candidates of the major parties. No matter what, this election is going to change things.
I am not in love with everything Barack Obama says. And I don't hate John McCain. But when I checked off my vote and saw the box next to my selection light up, I felt so happy! Because this is only my second presidential election, and my first was so awful. It felt really great to be voting for a candidate I actually like! And it felt great to know that no matter what, the president I really dislike will not be president much longer. In 24 hours, we will know who is going to replace him. And you know what I think? No matter what, it's going to be okay!
We aren't voting for The Lesser of Two Evils. We are choosing between two candidates who believe climate change is real. Two candidates who want to get us out of Iraq, someday. Two candidates who are not George W. Bush.
That is something to celebrate.

As a post script, I was so energized by this that I did vote for senator and congressman and one of the questions, and THEN decided to make a bathroom stop. The bathroom looked the same as it did when I was 13 and that was weird. What a difference a bathroom stop makes--because I hung around, I ran into my former Biology teacher, the first to teach a unit on plants. I hesitated, and then exclaimed, "Mr. Pedersen!? Is that you!?" at his back, and then "OMG I DON'T KNOW IF YOU REMEMBER ME BUT I TOOK YOUR CLASS TEN YEARS AGO NO WAIT MORE THAN THAT AND OMG I'M A BOTANIST NOW ALL BECAUSE WE DID A WILDFLOWER COLLECTION IN YOUR CLASS!" We chatted for awhile and he said I made his day. What a great morning!

* I can't remember what her name was, but it could have been Bev!

No comments: