Voting Stories

I’m publishing this while the votes are still coming in, before we know what’s happened. I’ve found a number of people online are sharing their stories from the polls. Here are a few that touched me, unedited:

I voted in Denver on Friday afternoon. My coworker and I left at 4:30 and headed to the nearest early voting polling place.

We ran into another friend and all shared who/what we were voting for – and it was Obama and democratic values all the way.

On the way in I ran into, literally, a wall of muscle that happened to be an African American man. He was wearing an “I just voted” sticker so I apologized for running into him and asked for directions to the polling place.

That’s when he told me that he’d voted in a small town outside Denver, but that “Here in the city, they be arresting black folk who don’t got no I.D cards – got pre-written warrants and shit.”

I told him that I hadn’t heard that but if it is happening it is bullshit and everyone deserves a chance to vote. He looked at me like he was trying to sum me up and I said, “Well, not to make any assumptions about who you voted for, but the three of us are headed in to vote for Obama.”

That’s when he literally picked me up in a bear hug and said “thank you SO much . . . my brother.” He was crying and told me he never thought he’d see a day like this.

Inside, the poll-worker was an older African American who was just beaming. Before she handed me the ballot (we had the ones where you draw lines to connect the arrows) she said very clearly and repeatedly:

“Now. If you need to CHANGE something, I mean really CHANGE something . . . you come back and get another ballot. Do not erase, because you cannot erase the past, but you can CHANGE your ballot to fix the mistake. You understand?”

I said “Yes ma’am. I don’t intend to make any mistakes but I hope to see some CHANGE anyhow.”

She looked at me, smiled, and pulled a Hershey’s kiss out of bag under her table. As I walked away, she said in a way that only certain African American women who’ve lead certain lives can say . . . “Gawd bless ya, baby. Gawd bless ya.”

I teared up when I voted.

My 93 year old, white, lifelong Republican great-grandmother, wearing pantyhose and her pearls, standing in line to vote for Obama because “this world isn’t heading the right way, and I’m here to set right what I contributed to that.”

When I went to vote I drove my 76 year old mother to vote as well, the first time she has been registered to vote in at least a decade. With older people you sometimes don’t know what they’ve got going on in their heads about things like race, so I was really pleased when she started talking about how much she liked the things Obama said and how she hoped he won. I picked up a voter registration form for her and took it to her and then took her to vote. I even had a collapsible chair in the trunk just in case there were those nightmare lines like I’ve seen on the news, but there was no wait at all.

Her sister, my aunt, a lifelong (seriously) Republican is voting for Obama as well and she is in her 70s too.

That’s one thing we should ALL keep in mind. We all know that the US has problems with racism but the thing that has made me really proud of this country isn’t so much the young people coming out for Obama (though that’s good too) but the older people in their 70s, 80s, and even 90s coming out for Obama.

An independant (who voted for Bush Sr. twice, Clinton, the Bush Jr. once) tells his story about what he learned canvassing for Obama:

Instead of walking the tree-lined streets near our home, my wife and I were instructed to canvass a housing project. A middle-aged white couple with clipboards could not look more out of place in this predominantly black neighborhood.

We knocked on doors and voices from behind carefully locked doors shouted, “Who is it?”

“We’re from the Obama campaign,” we’d answer. And just like that doors opened and folks with wide smiles came out on the porch to talk.

Grandmothers kept one hand on their grandchildren and made sure they had all the information they needed for their son or daughter to vote for the first time.

Young people came to the door rubbing sleep from their eyes to find out where they could vote early, to make sure their vote got counted.

We knocked on every door we could find and checked off every name on our list. We did our job, but Obama may not have been the one who got the most out of the day’s work.

I learned in just those three hours that this election is not about what we think of as the “big things.”

It’s not about taxes. I’m pretty sure mine are going to go up no matter who is elected.

It’s not about foreign policy. I think we’ll figure out a way to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan no matter which party controls the White House, mostly because the people who live there don’t want us there anymore.

I don’t see either of the candidates as having all the answers.

I’ve learned that this election is about the heart of America. It’s about the young people who are losing hope and the old people who have been forgotten. It’s about those who have worked all their lives and never fully realized the promise of America, but see that promise for their grandchildren in Barack Obama. The poor see a chance, when they often have few. I saw hope in the eyes and faces in those doorways.

My wife and I went out last weekend to knock on more doors. But this time, not because it was her idea. I don’t know what it’s going to do for the Obama campaign, but it’s doing a lot for me.”

It was a 45 minute wait this morning in Kansas City MO. I arrived at 7:30 am at the church where I vote and saw the line was already around the corner and the parking lot was filled up as well as the grocery store across the street.

The line of people were cheerful, cars were honking and cheering at the crowd as they drove by. Poll workers walking up and down the line had HUGE Fluorescent t-shirts that read, “VOTING QUESTIONS? ASK ME.” They offered breakfast bars and copies of the ballot to read while they waited and thanked everyone after that came back out.

I live in an urban area. I can’t recall ever feeling an energy like this on election day. My partner voted earlier that day and she ran into various co-workers and neighbors while in line. It is so great to see my whole community come together.

Once I got inside the church, there was just a bit of a traffic jam due the size of the area where they checked the names off the rolls which was only a very small lobby. The line was delayed by the fact there were only four line positions for the roll books- according to the last name. It was crowded and a bit silly. If I were claustrophobic, I would have an issue in there. People couldn’t get to the lines they needed to be in without standing or cutting into the other lines.

For all that people were still very polite, slightly bemused and the poll workers moved pretty quickly. I still made it out in time for work. Not a problem at all.

The area to vote was in the auditorium. We received paper ballots. There was one lonely computer for people to use if they wanted – it was ignored. people weren’t bothering to wait for a private booth. They were spread about the room sitting in chairs using clipboards or filling out their ballots on the stage area, and on various tables or even the floor.

I admit it now. I took my time. After I filled out my ballot- I had a moment. I stared at the name of my choice for presidential candidate for some time. It felt incredible. The history that led us all up to this point, and what I’ve seen over the course of my own lifetime- all rushed in on me at that moment.

I am as cynical about this country and the real world as they come. I have many times assumed that the world’s population is made of 90% stupidity and Americans are lazy and entitled- but that moment I felt really really good to be an American.

I live in a very small town in Iowa (way less than 5,000 people), and the line to vote this morning was almost two blocks long. Nobody had ever seen anything like it around here, and when I got in to vote there were twice as many volunteers and at least three times as many booths. Considering how many Obama yard signs are out around here, I have a good feeling about this.

Our termite guy came to do a treatment this morning. He’s a black man with a mild Caribbean accent. After we exchanged pleasantries, he asked if I had voted. I told him that I had voted early, and asked if he did. He sadly said no, and I pointed out that his employer had to give him time off to vote. He explained that he wasn’t allowed to vote — yet. He was waiting for his citizenship papers to go through, and the first election after he becomes a citizen, he plans to be the first person in line when the polls open.

He said, “I firmly believe that if you don’t vote, you got no right to complain about what the government is doing. And if you DO vote, you got the right and the power to make ’em do what you want.”

I told him we needed more citizens like him.

There has been a growing unspoken division between the poor and the rest of America for decades. Even being half black myself, I was still uncomfortable going into the projects just blocks from me in Miami. When I would drive through in the past I would focus in on the drug dealer or the drunk wandering the streets, so when I was asked to canvass there I was a little uncomfortable. As I walked with my fellow volunteer around the corner we came upon a group of young black men. There was load music blaring and they were in an intense conversation. I stopped and asked whether they were registered, and they told me they wanted to vote but were felons. I told them where they could go to get a reinstatement of rights petition and explained my disgust that their fundamental rights were taken. It’s strange because in that moment and apprehension and fear I had evaporated. We continued on and started going door to door. We would walk up to a house and ask for the people on our walk list. Hi, my name is … and I am a volunteer for the Obama campaign for change, are you planning to support Barack Obama this election. People were so excited, so hopeful: you could feel the uplifting spirit exploding from their eyes. We would pass out bumper stickers and more and more family members would come rushing out asking for one to. I also came across many names of young men who were dead or in jail or homes boarded up in foreclosure. They have been hurting and we have looked the other way: All of us. And yet, with all the challenges, with the struggles and the isolation from the rest of society, I saw Hope in these people’s eyes. They motivated me to keep doing more and I felt such a strong connection developing within our often divided community.

A few days later I went to another part of the same projects and canvassed alone. I would have never done this before. I had so much FUN. I would chat with Grandma’s sitting out on the porch watching their grandkids as they played tag or red light green light and chat with them for awhile. The smell of soul food like my grandma used to make wafted from every window. Neighbors went in and out of each other’s homes and shared responsibility of caring for the kids. Parents lined the fence in the local park cheering on their kids at pee wee football practice. They were so excited to vote and so excited to see me and talk to me. They made me feel welcome. Everywhere I went I would hear cheers of Obama from the very old to the very young. A twenty something black man told me he felt like for the first time in his life they were really making a difference. He said, “I am so proud of us”. I told him I was proud to.

When I went to a rally downtown it only reaffirmed this growing unity. Black families, white families, latino families, jewish families, etc all waiting in line to get in unified and excited. Not a single mention of McCain could be heard. We were just so excited to be there seeing Barack together. When we left then entire crowd started dancing to the beat of a Haitian ra ra band.

Now when I drive down that same street in the projects I don’t see the bum on the bench of a dealer under a tree, I see them moms holding their kids hands as they cross the street and the two old guys chatting outside the general store. Nothing has changed but my own perspective on the same thing. Now rather than rolling up my window and locking my doors, I stick my arm out and wave.

Times are a changing.

Categories: Politics, Social Justice | 1 Comment

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One thought on “Voting Stories

  1. indigo bunting

    Thanks for these…

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