Sunday, November 04, 2012

Exercise in Democracy

"Communista! Communista!" -- Romney supporter, yelling at Obama supporters across the street in front of our polling place.

The attractive, middle-class, thirty-something woman who was also in the group containing the above mentioned Latino loud mouth, called out to people passing by, "We don't want Communism!"

Communism?? Seriously? Like the same Congress that has been unable to agree on a budget for the last four years will suddenly agree to abolish the Constitution? I mean, hasn't the Cold War been over for twenty years now?

Some battles apparently need to be fought in perpetuity, so Saturday found us lining up along with thousands of our fellow citizens just so we could register our own individual drops in the bucket of public opinion. The wonderful thing about this is the way it demonstrates that we are all in this together, and that so many of us are willing to endure the ordeal of standing in line for five or six hours because it is that important.

Yes, we arrived at 3:15 and didn't leave until 8:20, an hour and twenty minutes after the polls had officially closed. Even more incredible is that when we finished the line of people still waiting to get in was only about half as long as it was when we got there. Wow! This is dedication! Some of them must have been there till almost midnight.

And speaking of dedication, how about the long-suffering poll workers, including many volunteers, who stuck with it for so many hours? These people were incredible -- patient, calm, orderly, and careful, even after countless repetitions of the same routine tasks. I was impressed, and didn't mind telling them so.

I know we could have sent in absentee ballots, but then we would have missed this experience. Standing in these lines is like being at a Fourth of July picnic. The County had people giving out bottled water, and there was a snack vendor whipping up hotdogs and arepas (local delicacy). My wife went for takeout while I stood in line and we took turns eating and resting in the folding chair we brought along.

And I have to mention the nice Republican supporter who stood behind us the whole time, and who we got to know a little bit. My first impression of him was not particularly favorable. When someone drove by and shouted, "Obama!" he sneered and said, "Yeah, keep going." So right away I knew where he stood. But over time as we talked about things -- like the bewildering list of State and local amendments, Charter revisions, judgeships, and "non-binding straw poll" questions on the 6-page ballot -- we came to the point where we could actually discuss the issues in a mutually respectful way, regardless of how much we might have to agree to disagree.

We even found areas of agreement. For example, when a pair of cement-mixer trucks made a bizarre appearance, circling the block with horns blaring in support of Romney-Ryan, we both wondered who could possibly expect to influence the votes of people willing to endure these long lines, who certainly must have their minds made up well in advance.

And how was it possible for people to declare themselves "undecided?" I, for one, can understand how someone could support any of the other candidates, including the Libertarian, Green, and Socialist, but how could they find it so hard to tell the difference? It's pretty clear, right? I mean, it's been on TV.

So all in all, I found the experience as uplifting as serving on a jury. I've done that several times, and have always come away impressed with the communal care and wisdom of a randomly selected group of fellow citizens. Given the responsibility, we rise to the occasion. And it's the same at the voting place. I still remember the Sikh gentlemen who shared our part of the line when we were voting for John Kerry. And the time our grandchildren voted with us four years ago. And I'll always have a fond consideration for this year's Republican who was willing to shoulder the burden with us and see it through to the end.

I think it was John Adams who was accosted by a woman on the street as he left the Constitutional Congress. "What kind of government have you given us?" she asked. To which he replied, "A republic, madam -- if you can keep it."

The ball is in our court. So get out there and VOTE!