I Love to Vote

I'm not going to lie and say this election season has been anything but toxically and frighteningly negative, but the actual physical action of lining up with my neighbors to vote is redemptive.
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I love election day, and I love to vote. No -- I do. Not just because it means a stop to all the robocalls and horrible ads, which have made my daughters and I turn off the TV and actually just watch Troy on the laptop.

I love seeing America vote, through the prism of my older working class neighborhood in Riverside, California. Today I walked the four blocks to the Lutheran church which is now the voting place for three separate precincts, and in the morning sun throngs of people were walking that way. It is the only time I see this cross-section of my neighborhood -- we see each other at the grocery store or at school or at church or walking the dog, but in the 23 years I've voted at this church, I have always thought of this as one of the best days in America. My children have walked with me, and now that they're in college, the dog comes. (She's a black retriever named Fantasia at the pound, and she fits us perfectly. She loves to vote.)

I'm not going to lie and say this election season has been anything but toxically and frighteningly negative, but the actual physical action of lining up with my neighbors to vote is redemptive. I walked past houses that have been foreclosed on, and houses that my neighbors are repairing. (In my block, two people are doubling the size of their homes -- for us, that means the houses were 650 and 800 square feet, and my neighbors are adding on a bedroom and bath themselves, having taken three years to do so. We aren't McMansion land here -- we have bungalows over 100 years old, stucco post-war cottages, and some lovely old brick homes.)

In the courtyard of the polling place, I greeted elderly white women from my church, born in Nebraska, Tennessee, Iowa, and Georgia. My neighbor's contractor son, who is half Cherokee -- seriously, from Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, but was born here. A lot of my neighbors are contractors, and they were voting in their work clothes before heading out on the job. White guys, a man with a Mexican flag cap, another man who is third-generation Mexican American (we've known each other since high school - his grandparents were born here, not in Mexico, in case some "anti-immigrant activists," whose own parents may have been born in another country, cannot follow that.) My neighbor Wendy carried her ballot and her husband's absentee ballot -- they were born in northern China and had a corner store here for fifteen years. (They vote seriously and with much debate, and tell me constantly that they can't understand how Americans don't vote, when in China people die to vote.) In front of me was a neighbor born in Africa, who's been here many years. Behind me were neighbors who were born in the same hospital as I was, the public hospital literally across the street from this church.

My mother was born in Switzerland, my step-father in Canada. My ex-husband had already voted here, hours earlier, before work; his parents were born in Mississippi and Oklahoma. We are, then, first generation Californians. We love to vote. My father-in-law's favorite phrase, every election November, shouted at all his six children -- "People died so you could vote, damnit! I don't care if you're tired! Get down there to the polls."

This morning, we lined up, we joked that we had to stop meeting like this once every two years or so, we hugged people we hadn't seen since that historic 2008 election. Then we separated, almost reverently, into our separate booths, to do the only thing Americans do privately, secretly, without Facebook or cell phone or best friend or even dog. We mark a ballot, we make a choice that could have nothing to do with billions (yes, billions!) of dollars spent on ads and media, and then we slide it into a blue box (or press a button) and go back out into the day or evening, having done something people still die to do, wearing that cheesy sticker instead of an ink stamp like people are marked with in other countries, and we have done something individual, sacred and yet the most communal act possible.

Every time I do this, I think of my father-in-law, and his fierce devotion to the process, and how he died two weeks before Barack Obama was elected, but I'd been thinking of him every time I voted, since I was eighteen. So for him, General Roscoe Conklin Sims Jr. a man who was African, Irish, Cherokee, and ornery like no one else, I say I made my marks.

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