Confession: I didn’t vote till I was in my thirties.
Like most converts, though, I embraced my late awakening with something like a holy, wild-eyed fervor. You probably don’t want to be around me now. If you don’t vote in this election, I am horrified and will lecture you endlessly about how people have died, suffered and listened to interminable political debates and obnoxious TV commercials to cast their ballots. And you’re too busy or disaffected to vote?
In fact, I will fight to the death for your right to vote for the wrong person, but along the way, will try to bamboozle you into changing your mind. (I call this the American Way.)
Even though I routinely get shamed and bullied by my friends for not early-voting, I still love to vote on election day. This morning, I walked a short distance to our new urban polling place. The sky was a dazzling blue and the line was short.
Inside the voting room, it was quiet. Quiet — after so many months of talk and sound bites and attacks and word wars and billions of dollars spent.
Behind me was a middleaged man who said he’d lived his entire life at the same house in East Austin, the part of the city that has changed so dramatically in recent years, morphing from quiet, modest neighborhoods into condos, coffee shops and yoga studios. A few people ahead of us was one of the richest men in town. A young woman in short boots and leggings quietly insisted she should be on the voting roster, while the officials checked the lists. “I’ve moved,” she said. “But I’m still in the county.”
It all reminded me of the other civic duty that invariably touches me so deeply — sitting on a jury. A few years ago, I’d been on a jury in a criminal case. The accused was hapless and disorganized (exactly the same kind of loser criminal I would be if my life had gone to hell, I’d thought at the time). He’d left the bank with no money and was apprehended half a block away.
We the jury spent hours agonizing about how harsh we should be. Would two years in prison be enough? Four? He was a repeat offender; when was he going to learn? What would make him change his ways? Why weren’t more of his family members in the courtroom? Had they given up on him?
After a day and a half of heated deliberations, our formerly congenial jury was seething and pissed-off at one another. If we’d taken a vote, we probably would have sentenced one of our fellow jurors, a self-righteous loudmouth named Renee, to bonecrunching labor in Siberia. Finally, Renee gave in, pointedly noting that she was clearly the only one of us who believed in Christian forgiveness, and we gave the guy four years.
Disharmony! Arguments! Accusations! But, at the end, I was deeply impressed with how conscientious our jury had been, how much we cared, how seriously we took our civic duty.
Just like voting today. The noise fell away, The mood sobered. We waited in line quietly and took our turns at the voting machines. For a few minutes, we agreed to believe our country could work.
(Copyright 2012 by Ruth Pennebaker)
Please read one of my all-time favorite posts, Just for Today, I am Pat Robertson