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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

To My Dear Friends Paula and Daphne

I was a poll watcher for the Obama campaign yesterday. I need to tell you that I was dearly hoping that Hillary would get the nomination, because I felt she most closely matched what was important to me. When she didn't, I brought my political head to the task of choosing a candidate and I treated this like any other election- I felt both candidates were fine men with well thought out platforms, but the choice of Sarah Palin as vp I felt lacked research and smacked of lazy thinking. That solidified my resolve to vote for Obama.

Sooooo, yesterday I got my ass out of bed at 530am, got all the animals taken care of and got to the township building at 715am. The line was already around the building.

I saw people I had never seen before. I saw a little boy choose an American Flag over a tootsie pop in a bowl of candy. We had more than 3/4s of our township voting before 2pm. I saw no fights, no political discussions - heated or otherwise - The only topic I heard discussed over and over was the question of funding for water resource clean up. I sat two feet from a Republican Committee woman I have known for twenty years - and she behaved for the first time as a professional and decent, fair minded, considerate human being. In fact, she admitted to several voters that I knew more about the water issue than she did, and she would go with my opinion.

Again, I am relating this to you in the hopes that you will understand the context of what I am trying to say. Not that this was about me. That's what I am saying. As the numbers of voters grew beyond anyone's expectations, the cloud in the air over our heads - the one with our different views and backgrounds, prejudices and affiliations, the elephant in the room no one was talking about, disappeared and the overwhelming energy was about HOW MANY people were voting. I moved into the actual polling place and counted heads for my party next to the Republican woman doing the same thing. We didn't know how people were voting, but each time someone came in, said their name, we would cross them off a many paged list and look at each other, stunned at how pages were filling up with orange highlighter lines. We counted off the names remaining - Look, Sue ONLY THREE PEOPLE on the B page have not voted!

We were doing this, because it provides the parties with an independent record, and also, in the past, if the turn out was really low, volunteers would start calling the lists, to see who needed a ride, who couldn't decide. At 3pm, both party committee people decided that there was no one to call! Sue had done this job for many years, in fact, as township secretary she knew most of our 1300 plus or minus voting citizens by sight. She would look down the line of waiting voters and say, Now, Shirley, those are the Tregos. The Hannums. The Shireys. The Paladinos. The Fuscos. Our highlighters would flick through the names on our lists, pages and pages. We laughed at each other trying to keep the alphabet straight, the pages from becoming messed up. I put my glasses aside, rolled up my sleeves and found myself muttering s,t,u, v, VAN HORN. When the registrar announced that one skinny white guy in work clothes, about twenty five years old, dirt on his boots, rushing in after work, was the 1000th person to vote, the room erupted into spontaneous applause. We had never ever had a thousand people vote in our district in any election. Sue told me she used to get excited when the number would hit 250. Carol, the Republican Committee woman, kept saying THIS is the way it should be! Every Election! Come back In April!

Dancing around, in and out of my ability to pay attention to him, was a young white man, in a suit jacket and jeans. Great hair. Great skin. Tall. A sparkling kid. the kind of kid that has a quality to him that you can't forget. He was wearing an Obama sticker on his jacket. Occasionally teasing the parents of his friends as they stood in line about their lack of lapel buttons. When he finally sat by me I said, Run for Congress. It's your world now. He said, maybe I will.

At 8pm, no one was in line. We shut the door. Our peak period was the forty minute line at 7am. There was a problem with one of our machines and the Republican Attorney and the Democratic Attorney bullied Voter's services into coming to our township building to count the vote manually, in front of the women who had collected them, rather than transport the votes down. No one wanted the slightest wiff of a taint on the ballot's credibility. Serious business. But all day long, no way of knowing just how this was all going to turn out.

I packed up my crock pot and headed home, exhausted, around 830pm. Let the dogs out. Took a shower. Got into my pjs. Sat on the sofa. Turned on the tv. That is when I had the shocking self realization that I had missed the whole point of the election.

My township has 1338 registered voters. Less than 2 percent of those voters are African American. Republicans outnumber Democrats three to one.

Numbers for West Nantmeal:
BARACK OBAMA (DEM) . . . . . . . . 444 40.92
JOHN MCCAIN (REP). . . . . . . . . 628 57.88
RALPH NADER (IND). . . . . . . . . 5 .46
BOB BARR (LIB). . . . . . . . . . 4 .37
WRITE-IN. . . . . . . . . . . . 4 .37

Again: 1338 voters, give or take. 98 percent white. 75% Republican.

It is NOT about who won in this small township. It's about these numbers and the choices that they represent.

Eighteen months ago, I missed the fact that it was extremely important for my son to build a house for his family. I wanted to make things easy for everyone and pay a contractor and it was a painful and expensive lesson to learn that his need to provide was greater than his need for easy solutions. In a very similar fashion, I thought this election was about my issues with George Bush, and my simple vote.

I missed how important it was to you.

Please accept my apologies and know that my eyelids are pealed back. I am thrilled by your happiness and sense of pride. I feel blessed that in my small way, by voting and being a witness, I was able to contribute to your feeling of inclusion. I can not take any credit for starting out with this in mind, but I hope you know that my intentions were never to do harm.

As I watched the celebrations, I missed three people very much: One, my father from whom I learned that you judge people by what they do, not what they look like. He met his first person of color in the army, a long way from home in a situation where he was the minority and in charge. Nothing in his childhood growing up in Wernersville prepared him for this. He also taught me that minding your own business was more important than minding others. The other was my husband Charles, who didn't see color, he saw music and friends and memories of picking up the white girlfriend of his black friend - to help them bypass disapproving families.

The third person I missed was Gertrude. She was part of my household when I was growing up, part of a parade of black women who did domestic work in my neighborhood. I remember her as ageless and beautiful, wearing the first spectator pumps I ever saw, and enormous black plastic hoop earrings. She would come to our house to clean our bathrooms and windows because my mother was sick a lot, and she always gave me five minutes to clean up before she hit my room and ratted my messiness out to my mother. When she worked she wore a housedress and scuffies. She and my mother would sit for hours at the dining room table, eating the lunch of tuna sandwiches and cokes that my mother made, and I would eavesdrop while they talked about babies and men and life in general. I remember when Gertrude told my mother she was pregnant and my mother asked her when the baby was due. Gertrude said she would "jess git a feelin', I guess." and my mother and she counted back and giggled. Once, Gertrude was appalled that a neighbor lady had purchased a 'sexual sofa' and expected her to clean it. My mother cleared that misunderstanding up for her, too. Before getting on the bus to go home, or before my mother in later years drove her back to Chester, she would go in the powder room and put on her beautiful black and white dress, take the rag off her head and put in her big plastic earrings. She would touch up her red polish and blow on her nails. I know she did this because she would let me sit on the bathroom floor (scrubbed by her on hands and knees) and watch her. The appreciation I got for clothing and fashion is directly related to these bathroom moments.

Until we moved to West Chester when I was twelve, and I was enrolled in a school with a more diverse population, she was the only person of color I knew.

I was in high school when it occurred to me that someone must be taking care of Gertrude's house while she was taking care of us and I asked her about it. She said she had a Puerto Rican woman named Spic and Span at her house. I was a lot older when I realized that this was probably a joke. Although my mother kept paying her long after she could not work, and she came to my wedding, we lost track of her family after she died of complications of diabetes. Last night I hoped that among the crowds of happy celebrating people, her children and grandchildren were dancing in front of cameras.

So, Daphne and Paula, I want to give you both hugs. I am glad I was a witness to this fulfillment of a promise democracy made to you and your families. I am sorry this is just another situation where your guy has to come in and clean up some white guy's mess.

I love you madly!



Greentwinsmummy said...

Getrude sounds like a complete poppet,one of those people that bring such wisdom & goodness into your life. I loved this post,really can feel how you felt on this day,thankyou for sharing x x
ps can you leave a comment with your address on,on my blog?if you wish of course! I would like to send you a little something :o) I will delete the comment so your address wouldnt be posted. & no worries if you dont wish to do this x x x

bowiechick said...

Lovely, lovely post. It can't be underestimated how the rest of the world feels to see this change in the USA. I wish Obama the best of luck with all of it as it is a nasty mess. Alas, we just voted back in Harper and politics in Canada is always quite lackluster and predictable.