Thursday, October 28, 2004

Voting as Community-Building

So yesterday, I exercised my rights as a citizen of a (gasp!) barely-surviving democracy (can't you see my rights' bulging muscles??).

Here in Albuquerque, there are something like 10 early-voting locations around the city. I went to the one I thought would be the least-used. I was expecting to dash in to a hole-in-the-wall, strip-mall ex-store, cast my vote in relative isolation, and feel vaguely and smugly superior.

Instead, although the location itself conformed to my low expectations, I was met with the sight of a line of about 75 citizens, waiting patiently and downright cheerfully for their chance to vote. The line -- at least two people wide -- stretched past at least 6 storefronts. An hour after arriving, when I finally made it inside, the poll worker said they'd had at least 400 voters a day since the first day of early voting -- October 6 -- and each day the line got longer. The day before, they'd had 635 voters. I don't want to do the math, and without comparisons from years before, there's no real reason to. I bring it up mostly to share just how buoyed my spirits were to see all these people, who clearly care deeply about the fate of their country, believe enough in the system to participate and cast a vote.

The atmosphere was festive. People were careful to treat each other respectfully and a bit delicately, as you weren't sure if the person you were talking to was voting "your way" or not. Even so, people did not hesitate to share their positions on specific issues, when an opportunity came up. Mostly, people talked about the activity of voting -- the prohibition on partisan pins or campaign material, the presence of poll monitors, etc. At some point, sarcastically, I mentioned to a friend standing in line with me that all we need to do to solve America's problems is to militarize this country. The woman standing behind us didn't bat an eye before telling me, in no uncertain terms, "Ma'am, I was in the military for 30 years, and I can tell you the LAST thing we need to do is to militarize this country. We don't want to end up like Russia." We all had a good laugh once I explained that I was mocking the Bush mentality, not advocating for expanding the military-industrial complex.

But people smiled. People talked. People said excuse me and please and thank you. There was a palpable sense of shared stakes -- in democracy, if not in a particular outcome of this particular democracy. And I suddenly gained the perspective that even if the worst of the worst happens and Bush prevails, our democracy will not be lost. Bush may try, and empire may do its best to undermine the power of the people, but there is still a vocal populace who believe in their right to determine the best government.

Like Maggie, I am an eternal optimist, and I may look too hard for the scraps of sunshine that signal a change in the weather, but as long as the people believe in the PROCESS of democracy itself and are willing to fight for their rights, the days of leaders like Bush & Co. are numbered. I have to believe that.

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