I voted today. And, I smiled an only semi-authentic smile for the camera. It is in fact a very worried smile
In the past, I felt some kind of joy in playing some tiny role in perpetuating representative democracy and feeling gratitude for living in a country where the belief in the voting process was shared across party lines (but I am naïve).
This is the first year I ever felt there might be people at the polls trying to disqualify my votes because I am a democrat- there weren't- but that was an uneasy feeling. Although the machine registered my vote, I remain worried that someone will try disqualify my vote for a candidate for US Senate, especially if the candidate I strongly support, wins.
Despite the uneasiness of whether voting will remain free and fair. .I still felt special trying to fill out the little bubbles with my black pen and fill them so they were dark enough to see, and also did not go over the line. This a challenge for someone with the artistic talent of a rock (I apologize to the whole broad field of geology- didn't mean to offend any rocks-- but most know that artistic talent usually doesn't go hand in hand with being an inanimate object.) And, there is something metaphorical trying to fill a little circle so that it is dark enough to register in the magic machine, but not go over the line, such that all I get is an error message and the possibility of being terminated from a job and from people's humanity.
I also thought as I voted about my grandparents who came to this country simply to survive mass killing of Jews, and their constant belief in a better world for their children in a country, albeit an imperfect country, partly because of what we sing about in "America the Beautiful" and what we praise in the Constitution.
My father lived his life obsessed with politics, and lived his life to find common ground among people so that good things could get done. I miss him so very much. But, I feel lucky for his soul that his physical manifestation does not have to watch politics degrade to the current place where the moral code of the Game of Thrones replaced the Golden Rule. And, I am glad he does not have to watch a country devolve such that politicians who try to find common ground are seen by a way too large a portion of society (on both the left and right) as spreading the philosophy of the devil.
My dad, if sill alive, would be glued to the TV and NPR every day with an angst so large and overwhelming that it could refill the Great Basin.
One of my dad's greatest strengths was that he had a gift for finding even tiny pieces of common ground (and gave his memoir that title , because he was so interested in people that he could see pieces that many did not know existed. He also was an amazing optimist, even when crippled by anxiety, about the state of politics. He also remained optimistic about the good in people and in the inherent worth of every human being.
I feel lucky to have inherited that optimism and belief in the inherent worth of every student taking my classes. But, I don't share much optimism with respect to imagining a society in America or even in Academe, founded in integrity, intelligence, optimism and empathy. And, I have grown cynical whether there are any spaces left in the universe where people can build a homestead together on even 1/4 inch of common ground.
With all of that going through my head this morning, as I woke up at 730 after not going to bed until 345 AM, I trudged to the polls to cast my early vote. I was the least energized I have ever felt about voting (and not because I was tired and trudging). I seemed to only be able to imagine the evolution of American society from something metaphorical to an inspiring painting (maybe Van Gogh or Monet for me) towards 24 hour showings of 3-D horror movies.
I hold out some optimism despite my cynical nature. Students give me hope-teaching is so rewarding in that way. UNCG students overcome amazing challenges just to get to class. They are not entitled and have little expectations that the world should give them anything. And, I have found them to be very smart, curious, extraordinarily empathetic and compassionate, and they have a passion for living in a better world. How can that not give one hope? .
So, I hope everyone finds a way to trudge to the polls or get an absentee ballot- and vote. And, believe in the voting system..
It would even be inspirational to me if everyone viewed polling places as sacred sites in America, where one's vision is restored on the first Tuesday of November at least every two years, if not every year, allowing the shining light of freedom and integrity to come into view,. And, as that beautiful and captivating light comes into focus, I hope the light overshadows the darkness and emptiness of the large black hole of partisanship and paranoia that seems to be sucking all that is good into oblivion.