"Fire is motion / Work is repetition / This is my document / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all defenses."

- Cap'N Jazz, "Oh Messy Life," Analphabetapolothology

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

a reflection on home and the symbolism of voting

long title. this post became more than i intended it to be when i began.

continuing with my voter anxiety: i have a horrible confession to make: i hadn't planned on casting a vote today. i know! shame! hypocrisy! hisssss!!! i had many reasons, the biggest being that i recently moved and felt confused about my sense of home, and how that translated into bureaucratic paperwork concerning change of address declarations. even tho the DMV and my place of emploi instructed me to change my official home address to my current LA spot, i was still stubbornly inclined to retain my sense of belonging in the midwest. i thought of my last 2 elections and the idea of having a swing vote in Ohio sounded too good to pass up for what seemed like a throw-away vote in CA. my place of residence may be official on paper, but in my heart, i could feel myself torn between three states: my latest voter registration was done in Ohio, but under a dorm room address which hasn't technically been my residence for 3 years now. and my "permanent home address" which is in Lexington, KY – eventhough i went away for school and now for work, i still return from time to time and it is still, indelibly, home. and then my current residence in LA County, CA, which eventhough it's the address on all my bills, my employment papers, and my new (and involuntary!) CA driver's license, is still just a transitional place to stay in my mind, a layover between destinations. i just couldn't figure it out. with a mind like mine, the address line is just too vague and nondescript to account for such arguments regarding identity. and the harsh words at the bottom of all my voter registration papers, warning against felony, perjury, and fraud for inaccurate information didn't exactly inspire confidence in me, nor encourage a speedy decision.

so the time flitted away. every day i would look at the two forms i had printed out (i found differing forms on the internet, one much shorter than the other, both very hard to read and understand, both containing the frustrating address line, neither very helpful or voter-friendly) and literally sweat as i tried to figure out what to do. perhaps i could have sought help, perhaps i could have just done what made sense and registered in my current state of "residence." i dunno, it's hard to explain why i couldn't make a decision. but i will tell you that what should have been a simple task was becoming an existential dilemma and one that was paralyzing me from action. (haha, to which i implore you to imagine how i was at the actual polls! i bet a lot of you might be thinking that maybe ppl like me (that is: indecisive ppl) are best left out of the voting process. and to that i would say, "perhaps you are right.")

anyway, so the time passed and still i could not figure out what to do, until eventually the decision made itself. i missed the window for registering absentee in KY, and then OH, and then CA's window quickly approached and i still wasn't sure what to do. i got someone else's mail-in-ballot in my mailbox and opened it, ready to cast her vote for her, thinking "if her ballot's here, where is mine?" and wondering pseudo-philosophically "if a vote is mailed but never cast, does it still count?" sadly, the law and fear of FELONY on my permanent record prevented me from doing anything, again (do you kinda see what i'm getting at? clearly there's a problem if even an educated and civic-minded person such as myself feels paralyzed from exercising her basic civic duty.)

so eventually, i resigned to not voting. too much stress, too much paperwork, my mind felt twisted and confused and i couldn't figure out what i was supposed to do and how to go about doing it. i gave up on trying to figure out the complications of the system, telling myself it didn't matter anyway, KY would surely go red and i was sure Obama would be pocketing CA (later, i spoke to my parents on the phone and my mom talked about the McCain-Palin signs on the lawn surrounding our house, and KY going republican. "ridiculous!" she said. i love her.) i wished i could vote from ohio, but i had been following polls and was getting more and more sure that it would tip toward Obama in the final days. so i didn't really feel too bad for a while. i pretended i voted already, that no matter where i cast my vote, it wouldn't have mattered anyway. i wasn't realizing the empowering (and potentially disempowering) symbolism of my decision.

when it got closer and closer to the election, i began to resent myself for it. i hadn't given thought to Prop 8 (ban on same-sex marriage – vote no!) and the abortion amendment, and my representatives in the House, or even to the fact that i could vote for Nader if i wanted (which i promised i would, and did! read on...) whenever any one of my students asked me if i voted i of course lied so as not to create in their minds a sense of political apathy or powerlessness. and with all their fervor and excitement, i didn't want to be a buzzkill. of course i was excited too, but i just felt so miserable for regretting my decision and inability to join in.

and so this kept building up until finally today, at the end of my school day, i was talking to Ben. and from across the world in Turkey, he's been following the election coverage, eagerly awaiting the results, and he happened to ask me, very casually, if i voted. "i want to know what is happening with the election. did you vote?" and i had to be honest and try to explain why "no, i did not vote" and why i didn't vote in CA, nor OH, nor even KY. and the more we talked, and the more i tried to explain it, the more ridiculous i felt. and even after i explained it to Ben, it still didn't make sense to me and probably didn't make sense to him either. and for the 2 hours after that, i kept thinking about it, feeling worse and worse, more guilty, more regretful, more hypocritical. i couldn't think about anything else during my professional development meetings after school because i felt like a liar and a hypocrite. the entire time i was supposed to be in department meetings unit-planning, i was trying to forget about my overwhelming sense of guilt. on my drive home, every crowded block i passed, i craned my neck and risked taking my eyes off the road for the brief moment it took to eye the lines at the polls, to observe crowds of ppl waiting to cast their votes, and fill with a sense of excitement and reminiscience for a memory i have of walking the streets in Over-the-Rhine in Cincinnatti, Ohio in 2004, and the electricity of anticipation and solidarity between all the ppl i met in the street, everyone joining together in exercising civic rights and responsibilities. and then i called home trying to reach my dad, who has been known to occasionally skip voting in elections, much to my mom's and my annoyance. after talking to Ben, i thought i would at least call and try to urge my dad to the polls, in case he didn't remember or had made a decision similar to mine. and so he picked up the phone and i asked him, "did you vote?" and he said, very easily and matter-of-factly, that he did, that my mom went in at 8:30 and he went at 9 am before work, and even though it was a 40-minute wait in line, he was happy to do it. and then he asked me, and when i had to explain it to him, i felt horrible. i was born in the states in the '80s and never had to earn my citizenship or fight for my suffrage, but thinking about the opportunity i had to vote, and how i let it go to waste so easily, made me physically ill and uncomfortable. i couldn't live with that.

as soon as i came home, i explained to my roommate that i had resolved, during my drive home, to attempt a provisional ballot, even if it's merely palliative. so we packed into the Prius and drove to our precinct polling location and i went thru all the bells and whistles and waited in all the various lines, told my story over and over to the polling officials (by now, i've gotten good at explaining my confusion) and finally, they handed me a provisional ballot and an hour later, lo and behold:


i relished reading every single amendment and proposition in detail, using my little pen to punch in my decisions, and enjoying a sense of solidarity with everyone in that room.

oh, and since i'd already decided my presidential vote wouldn't matter to Obama, i cast it very proudly for Nader. :-)

such a relief and happy resolution to a tense couple of months.

watching the celebrations all over the nation reminds me of new year's eve. it feels like a new age is dawning.


p.s. i like comparing this to my last elections/voting post, here. gotta love the images.

1 comment:

Chelsea said...

to be honest, i felt the opposite response to the pre-election polls: that surely it was too good to be true, some kind of bradley-effect type of phenomenon was bound to take place, and obama would certainly lose. maybe that's because i still live in kentucky. but last night i was very excited to be playing with the interactive map on the new york times website, where i could easily see that more counties than fayette and jefferson were blue for obama!! the times are indeed a-changin'.