I voted early this afternoon in the cafeteria of the local elementary school. In my district I am in a minority. I am a liberal Democrat, I live in an old farmhouse not a McMansion, I drive a twelve-year-old stick shift car not a humongous SUV. A s I walk the gauntlet between my parked car and the entrance to my polling place, I am politely but fervently besieged by poll workers from eight to eighty offering sample ballots, mostly Republican salmon rather than Democratic blue. I don’t really need a sample ballot, or the information about the school bonds, but I take the blue paper and the bond flyer to be polite. I always have an uneasy feeling as I do this, because the color of my sample ballot gives away my preferences. My ballot is in some sense no longer secret. Each time the district results come in I consider moving. As the northern part of my state has become more and more blue (and the state as a whole is classified as “purple”) I am still surrounded by huge lawn signs that in effect say “you are an outlier here.”
My own family is split, politically speaking. My sister and brother-in-law just drove home 14 1/2 hours straight in their giant RV in order to be sure to cast a vote for their Republican governor’s re-election. She and I have agreed that if we ever end up sitting on the porch together in our rockers, Mr. D and her husband six feet under, we will retire to separate rooms to consume our news. I don’t think she has ever listened to NPR, which to me is kind of like bragging that you’ve never met anyone who liked brussel sprouts. And I would have to be hog tied and gagged if I had to listen to Wayne LaPierre extol the virtues of semi-automatic weapons on Fox News.
When I stood in line today, showed my voter ID card, filled in the bubbles with my number two pencil, inserted the ballot into the scanner and received my “I Voted” sticker, I saw three people I knew at the polling place, and all three of them were carrying salmon sample ballots. I had no previous knowledge of their political leanings. I felt judged by them as they furtively eyed my blue ballot, folded neatly in half inside the nonpartisan school bond info sheet. And I suppose I judged them as well. Or, maybe I just felt that we lived in separate worlds as far as our imaginations are concerned.
You see, I think of myself as embracing the next phase of American History, one that I didn’t teach for thirty years and one which will come to full flower when I am truly a senior citizen and not just a retired but late middle aged baby boomer in skinny jeans. I’ve never understood teaching colleagues who were not progressives, because our craft so depends upon releasing the creative energy of a constantly changing mixture of young people trying to figure out who they are and where they belong. If I didn’t believe in the power of reason, experience and time I couldn’t have graded those thousands of essays or nurtured hundreds of students. I had to have faith in progress, of the future that they would create, not one that I would control. I’m OK with that. Change is good. Change is a constant.
After yoga tonight Mr. D and I will either drink champagne or cry in our beer. When I talk to my sister tomorrow we will chat about our father’s doctor visit, my elderly dog Sydney’s readjustment after his tripto my dad’s in New Jersey, her puppy’s latest teething disaster. We will not talk politics.
I was born in New York City and I’m proud that my passport says New York, NY, the greatest city in the world. I have lived in Northern Virginia for nearly thirty years, and have deep roots here, but I often still feel like an outsider. Let’s hope that this and future elections change that.