Tales from the trenches – More election stories
I was fascinated by an article in the New York Times this weekend about a couple who took extreme measures to make sure that they would be able to vote. Cynicism and apathy are so common, this story was a breath of fresh air.
The Scott-Kers are brand-new Americans; they became citizens last November. She hails from New Zealand, her husband from Morocco. Since this summer, they have been living and working in India. They applied for absentee ballots in a timely fashion, but received nothing in the mail. Disenfranchisement, however inadvertent, was just not an option. The couple decided to fly back to New York in order to vote. This was no simple matter. The 9,300-mile trip is a whopping 22 hours - one way! And tickets for two go for around $5,000.
But, Ms. Scott-Ker felt quite strongly about this and would not be deterred. “We became citizens so we could vote. We’d lived here 13 years on green cards, paid lots of tax money, but you have no voice within the system.” Most Americans who find themselves out of the country – or just away from home – at election time are in no position to come home to vote. That’s why they request absentee ballots in the first place. This widespread disenfranchisement extends beyond out-of-state students to our troops serving abroad, according to The Dallas Morning News. This is the ultimate irony – our brave men and women risking life and limb to export a democracy they don’t experience when they can’t even vote themselves.
The actions of the Scott-Kers are both admirable and newsworthy. At the same time, there are countless others out there quietly doing their part. My friend, Linda, came over yesterday afternoon to distract me from the upcoming elections with a game of Scrabble. Of course, our conversation veered off onto election talk. She told me about our friend, Mike, who is a union attorney in Chicago. The AFL-CIO Lawyers Coordinating Committee is running a non-partisan voter protection program, with lawyers fanning out to nine battleground states. Mike will travel to Wisconsin tomorrow and be there through the end of voting on Tuesday night. I was thrilled but not surprised to hear it. Mike is that kind of guy. He says:
I am doing this because I believe that the right to vote is a fundamental right; that it is crucial that that right be protected; and that, as a lawyer, my skills in understanding and applying the law can be used to help achieve that goal.
My cousin Diane lives in San Francisco. She is a playwright, composer, and sixty-something empty-nester. She traveled to Reno last weekend. Here’s how it came about.
The Democratic Party was looking for volunteers willing to spend a weekend in Nevada. She enlisted a few friends and they joined a mixed group (part locals, part Californians) of around 200 people. They attended training sessions and then went out to canvass voters who were either Obama supporters, leaning toward Obama, or undecided. Reno is in Washoe County and for every election in recent memory has been safely tucked in the Republican camp. This time, registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 1,300. Suddenly, Washoe County is considered a ripe target for a Democratic GOTV [get out the vote] campaign. An exerted effort could make a difference and swing the state into the blue column.
It was a diverse group – ethnically, and age-wise. There were lots of college students and many middle-aged volunteers, with plenty in between. One couple happened to be from Diane’s synagogue in San Francisco. With them was their daughter, who had taken time out of law school to be there. A group of California high school students were obviously too young to vote but still determined to take part.
for the longest time, Diane’s political involvement has been minimal. She always voted, and often contributed to various campaigns. But the last time she was actively engaged was more than three decades ago, in 1972. So, how did she get from There to Here?
I think it’s so scary the place we’re in. The older I get, the more imbued I am with the notion of responsibility for what happens. In small ways and large ways, we have the responsibility to weigh in, to pitch in, and do something.
When we were raising kids and driving carpool, we were more inner-directed. When the kids leave home, we think more about the world we’re passing on to our children and our children’s children. You can’t just sit on your duff. You need to take some action. It’s not that I think that I personally made a difference. But when you see 200 people in this one county in Nevada, every weekend for the last month or so, and multiply that by the number of states where similar activity is going on, you feel like together, you can make a difference.
She came home – in a word – energized! More than that, Diane started thinking about how she might have gotten involved earlier in the campaign. She’s good at organizing and she could put those skills to work in the future. Political activism is definitely on her radar screen now.
Allow yourself to be inspired by Diane, Mike, the Scott-Kers, and the thousands out there who have chosen not to sit passively on the sidelines. Take the plunge and get involved yourself, whatever your political persuasion. There’s plenty to do and more than enough to go around. I guarantee that you will find yourself energized as well. It's incredibly empowering to be around people united in a common purpose.
Your activism needn't expire once this election is over. Look beyond it. Use your imagination. Pick a candidate, or champion a cause. Promise to become an election judge or poll worker in the future. (They are a critical but largely unappreciated part of our democratic process.) Remember, Tuesday marks the end of one chapter but the beginning of the next. And the fight for election integrity will not stop once the winner of this election is declared.