Nov 7, 2004

Election Awe

This is an old one I wrote around early November '04, sticking it up here for posterity..
The writing workshop group met at the back of the first floor of the library annex. We trooped in for a session the evening of November 1st, and realized that the room was designated to serve as a polling station for the local precinct the following day. As a resident without voting rights, this was my first look at the sanctimonious inner space of the temples of democracy.

The room is what you would expect to find tucked away in the depths of a public library, one that serves for the occasional meetings, or book sales. One of the pastel yellow side walls is dominated by a mural that represents Quincy as the City of Immigrants. On the portion of the wall that the mural does not encompass, a small plaque provides a flow chart, almost a design template, which the architects of the mural must have followed to focus their creativity. As one enters the room, a table against the near wall contains an assortment of items that I have now come to view as familiar accoutrements for the workshop sessions. There is a jug of cider, a wicker basket of stirrers and sugar packets, some deliciously fluffy pound cake and a box containing tea bags and collectible animal miniatures. A large officious wooden table sits along the side wall across from the mural. I imagined the voting official seated there, along with a few lawyers, greeting voters as they enter. On the table is an ominous black telephone, probably kept for the extremely undecided voter to call a life line.

That evening, the far wall was a forest of plastic. Voting stations, consisting of long spindly legs and three sides which created a little sheltered table, stood brilliantly backlit with halogen lamps. The back of each station contained a flyer with instructions on the voting procedure. The center of the room contained a box which looked like a mailbox lying on its side. Blue in color, it had numerous openings with latches and locks. One side had a slot which I assume would swallow the cast ballots. The seal above it, which I first thought to be the Commonwealths, turned out to be two sailboats on the bay with blue sky in the background. I see this picture often while kayaking, and thought it aptly symbolized Quincy.

In my minds eye, I can see the crowd arriving. The early morning voters, who want to strike the task off their list before starting out the day, come in briskly. They have ID cards and other formalities ready, and their voting is with a purpose. They feel strongly about their candidate, and achieve peace of mind by carrying on with life knowing that they have thrown their vote behind their principles. As time passes, people who vote out of peer pressure or are nagged into voting arrive in dribs and drabs. They are impatient. However, once the situation has boiled down to they and a slip of paper with numerous choices, there is much hesitancy, false starts and pondering. They look up to the ceiling; they look to the sides as if to guess the choices of their neighbors. Then, finally realizing that they have been standing there for ten minutes, they complete their choices in a furious flourish.

Late in the day, the crowd partly consists of the weary. These are people who were unable to vote before work but want to perform their civic duty, even it means trudging at the end of a hard day to the stations. The ties are loosened, eye-liners are slightly smudged, and the occasional coffee spill stains show on objects of clothing. The other section of the crowd consists of the target audience of the get-out-the-vote campaigns. As exit polls show fluctuating futures of the candidates, campaign workers, volunteers, and concerned citizens are getting their friends and acquaintances to turn out and seal the fate of the election. They show up in hybrid vehicles with tree hugging signs, they show up in pick-up trucks with “Kick Saddam’s butt” stickers. They come dressed in suits, in denim, in fatigues and in rainbow garb.

Since the mighty Soviet Union collapsed, and in its fall revealed that its might was more fiction than reality, the political climate in the United States has a world wide impact that greatly exceeds global warming. Eulogies about the global village not withstanding, this effect/ relationship has had some disastrous effects on a large percentage of Americans and a majority of the world population. Thus, I, along with the rest of the world, watched eagerly to see which way the winds blew in this election.

I remember the tension and suspense during the evening of the election. The news flashes reeling off decisions in battleground states and scorecards of the Senate and the House. The dead-heat, deadlock, even-steven poll results gave no indication of how things would end. Now, looking back a week after it’s all over, those moments seem very far away.

Adlai Stevenson had said “In America, anybody can be president. That's one of the risks you take”. That anybody could be President for a second term was a little beyond the comprehension of most people on the planet. Here’s what was beyond the comprehension of your humble narrator:
Why did the moral majority choose to ignore the pernicious elements of foreign (and domestic) policy and the shenanigans of major contractors in Iraq, and focus instead on sexual deviances of a minority group who primarily reside at the dead ends of highways such as I-95 and Route 6? (Come to think of it, were it not for the Golden Gate Bridge, the same could be said of San Francisco).
Does the moral majority truly care more about tax cuts and less about the loss of innocent lives?
What happened to the likes of Bill Buckley, who chose silent partisanship over intellectual conservatism?

The list is endless, so why go on. Here’s what I concluded. It appeared that there was a sudden determination that the Age of Enlightment was one gigantic mistake which should be corrected promptly, say in four more years? The beliefs of the period that led to the Revolutionary War, that separated church from state and led to formation of liberal Christian sects with beliefs in humanism and science seems to have been a referendum question on the national ballot. The result of that vote --- two thumbs down!!

In my minds eye, the plastic booths still glow from the halogen tubes. They are extinguished one by one, legs taken apart, packed into the case formed by folding the sides and leave the building as a pile of small suitcases. They will be back in a few years. What choices we will face then? How will we respond?