One reason why I started this blog was to give myself deadlines. I didn’t plot out goals when I began, but I see now that posting once a week, at minimum, is my goal. I got that memo last week when I did not post and felt like my boss should write me up.
Who’s my boss? You might ask. She’s a severe taskmaster named Helga. She lives inside my head and is always ready with a pen and a long pad of legal paper, the yellow kind, to list my mistakes in grand detail. Her hair is wound up tightly in a French twist and her glasses perch in the middle of her nose so that she can look over them and glare at me, which she does often. Come to think of it, Helga looks quite a bit like me—only thinner and perpetually wearing suits (usually slate-grey wool flannel, pencil skirt ending just below the knees, silk blouse with elongated collar points).
We have a love-hate relationship, Helga and me. Not easily amused, she makes me write and miserable when I don’t.
Ah, but last week. My dedicated writing days are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays–the days when two-year-old Leif goes to daycare. But, I tell Helga, last week was not any old week. There was the election and anxiety kept me up much of Monday night. A week later, I cannot recapture that heart-thudding anxiety, which was so real and is now literally unimaginable, though factually I know it was there. Big events will do that—wedding preparations, a set of final exams, even Christmas—all truck in anxiety in advance of their arrival. Born, I imagine, out of the desire to control something that is never controllable. I know others were feeling the same early last week, because so many (of all political persuasions) were posting it on Facebook.
Tuesday was, of course, Election Day. Akron Public Schools are closed when we have elections because many of the schools are polling locations. Currently, Hugo is my only child in an APS school and I signed him up to work Get Out The Vote (GOTV) with me. His only complaint was that we had to be at the Democratic Headquarters at nine a.m. Four years ago, when he was eleven, Hugo walked to the Obama headquarters on his own volition, while I was at work, and asked what he could do to help. They had him roll posters for as long as he was willing.
Last week, we went together to a union hall for packets of addresses and directions to the neighborhood we were to work. If you haven’t done it before, you might think GOTV would be stressful, going to the doors of complete strangers. On Election Day, the goal is not to convince people to vote for the Democratic candidates but rather to make sure previously identified Democrats have voted and, if not, encourage them to do so as soon as possible. Generally, these voters are happy to see you, but Hugo was naturally nervous and went with me to the first few houses before we split up and took opposite sides of the streets we were working.
Working GOTV often reminds me of an issue that is important to me—the reality versus the mythology of poverty. See this Truthout.org piece on what these myths are and how perniciously they impact society: Lies of Plutocracy: Exploding Five Myths that Dehumanize the Poor. By chance, this year the neighborhoods I walked for the Democrats were poor, working class neighborhoods including one near the Akron Zoo, which I drive through often. When driving, I see the boarded up houses and the few that are in derelict condition.
But when going to the doors of the homes in this neighborhood, I saw what I do not when driving by at 35-45 miles an hour. Modest homes kept as tidy, if not tidier, than mine. Lawns edged around the sidewalks, weed-free gardens, porches swept clean. Children well cared for and friendly. Ubiquitous evidence that poor people are overwhelmingly NOT lazy, no more so (perhaps even less so) than any other demographic. Many people gave me guarded looks when answering their doors—just as I do when strangers knock on my door, but once I identified myself as working for the Obama campaign, many adults were happy to talk with me about the election. Lyra was a great assist as I carried her on my chest in her Ergo baby carrier, older women often telling me to “keep that baby warm, now!”
True confession: I enjoy working in predominantly African-American neighborhoods where I would not typically have reason to venture. It’s no secret that black Americans frequently do not feel welcome in predominantly white neighborhoods. The tragedy of Treyvon Martin earlier this year gives grim evidence as to why. So why should I feel entitled to waltz through a black neighborhood? Well, I don’t. Not because I am afraid I will be shot, I’m not, but as a white woman, I do not want anyone in a black neighborhood to think I’ve condescended to ask for his or her vote. And were the candidate for whom I was urging them to hustle to the polls for white, it just might smack of condescension. But he isn’t. The candidate, our president, is black and my children will not recall a time when a black president was unimaginable. But it is my opinion that Barack Obama is, irrespective of his color, one of the best presidents of my lifetime.
Shortly after Obama won his first presidential election, the satirical online magazine, The Onion, posted this piece: Nation’s Blacks Creeped Out By All The People Smiling At Them | The Onion – America’s Finest News Source. I suppose I’m one of those people, I felt so good after we elected (and re-elected, perhaps just as remarkably) Barack Obama. Yes, there is so much work to be done with regards to race relations and poverty in this country—and don’t think the two aren’t connected, they are. See point number three in the above TruthOut.org piece. Seemingly the hardest part is how to even have a discussion in this country about race, particularly across racial lines. Having a black man win the presidency and then win re-election does not mean we do not have significant work to do with regards to issues of race and poverty, we do. But we are, at least in leadership, in this one instance, moving in the right direction. And it momentarily puts a white middle class mama like me on common ground with some working-class black Americans. It is a place of hope for change, real change, because we all want the economy to improve and good jobs to become more plentiful. But to move past the intransigence of “Us versus Them”–whether the paradigm is class, color, religion, sexual orientation–is tectonic change. And a worthy goal. Perhaps the most worthy goal in life.
And so Hugo and I worked our packets, going to each and every door on our lists. That night, we stayed up to watch the results come in and, as we did four years ago, when Ohio was called for President Obama, we trudged out back and shot off three Roman Candles, before filing to bed. We were spent. Wednesday, my head ached and I was tired like a sick person. I did not drink the night of the election, but I felt hungover nonetheless. It’s over; finally this long election is over. May the work of our government, the essential work, now begin. May our leaders work with sincerity and not cynicism, for all citizens, not just those they agree with, and may they guide the nation out of war and economic recession. And perhaps in so doing, guide themselves away from polemic politicking.
On Thursday of last week, we took our little Lyra to the Down’s Clinic at Akron Children’s Hospital for an evaluation by their medical team. But that is a topic for another post, which I know Helga believes should reasonably post this week. If I can be sure of anything in this world it’s that she’ll keep after me until it does.