I was 17 the first time I clerked at a polling station – partly because I got the day off school to do so, plus extra credit in Mr. Snively’s American History class, & partly because I knew that I didn’t yet comprehend how remarkable it is that we have the right. It was 2003, not a significant election in that we were more than halfway through Bush Jr.’s first term as president, but I felt compelled to understand the mechanics of things, because when it came time to get his embarrassing ass out of office when I turned 18 – I wanted to be loaded, cocked & ready to mark my ballot.
Looking back at the Ojai Valley Municipal Water District building in Oak View, California, I am so grateful for the calm, slow, quiet place with which I learnt the general happenings of these events. It was the perfect way to ease into such disorganized, redundant, silly, government madness & was taught by the perfect people who had the patience for it – my area’s elders.
Compared to my current, bustling precinct in West Hollywood, where I have now graduated to fill the inspector role, this small town gave me the foundation I needed to grasp each step. It also reiterated how important not only it is for us to stand up for what we believe in, but to respect & engage with those who are older than us enough to hear what they are willing to kindly teach us. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: we don’t need to reinvent the wheel to improve upon it.
My Dad taught his 3 children that most of life’s battles are just showing up… “Nothing can be sorted until you show up to put heads together & figure it out,” he’s told me so many times, in so many words, & I’ve come to learn he’s right. Every time we cast a ballot it says, “I’m here. I exist, & I matter.” Most of the time if people make it a priority to get out to vote, they have also taken on the responsibility to know what it is they’re voting about. Almost by default these people are going to care, be more educated & hold a level of accountability – ahem, my main religion in life.
There are people who vote with the victim mentality of unmet needs, yes, but I beg to argue with my experience that they are far outnumbered by those of us working to build the world we want to live in. There are people who show up to berate “the person in charge of this place!” (me) with their random, niche knowledge about how not only this polling place, but the government in general is being run against The Constitution, (or whatever else). There are people who don’t even know which party they’re registered to… Hell, there are so many more people than I could have ever guessed that show up seemingly without access to deodorant!
I can’t solve all these people’s problems – but at least I’m out there; at least I’m filling out those (goddamnit, it neared 300 today) pink, provisional ballot envelopes; at least I get to go to sleep knowing I stood there, I showed up & I listened to these people’s rants, & qualms, & questions… Because a lot of the time, that’s all they need – someone to listen to them, to show them their voice matters. These people aren’t my enemies; they’re the ones trying. My enemies are the selfie-taking, indifferent, desperate attention-seekers who act like they’re too far above “the system” to be bothered with learning about it, when, ironically, they’ll be the ones losing ground within it.
Really what do you have to lose in taking the time to stand & make your vote count? We can broaden our perspectives & again take on the responsibility American once happily proclaimed, of being the beacon of the free world that leads by honorable, courageous example.