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Casting My Vote

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I’m not new to voting; in fact I’ve been at it awhile. Without getting into specifics let’s just say I’ve seen a Bush or two on the ballot. Yet, the act never ceases to thrill me. It is the only endeavor I can think of that feels patriotic, defiant, virtuous and humbling all at once. It’s impossible to ignore how monumental the right to vote really is. There are people still fighting for the right in the 21st century. My gender has only legally been at the booths for less than a hundred years. And there we stand (sometimes for an hour or more,) surrounded by people just like us and entirely different from us. We have (for the moment) set aside our cynicism and are doing the least we can to create the world we want. On those rare occasions (reinsert cynicism) on which we vote for someone we wholeheartedly support it feels as if we’re giving a well deserved standing ovation. “I believe in you!” “I’m rooting for you!” Even when we cast a vote for “the one who is at least not as bad as that other one” we feel as if we’ve made our presence known and have done the right thing.

This year my polling station reinstated the manual voting booths. You remember those enormous metal boxes that arrived at your school cafeteria one or two days before each election? Upon entering the station I heard the unmistakable “clang swoosh” of the machine and felt just a tiny flutter. It is a singularly unique sound and should probably be programmed into electronic voting booths. (Those scanners need a whole lot of remodeling so why not throw in a sound effect?) Whether filling out a bubble sheet (with the world literally watching as there is no privacy) or flipping switches behind a curtain; there is a bit of anxiety. Unlike any standardized test I have ever taken, I actually review my answers: multiple times. Is the X on the right line? Did I fill in the bubble completely? She’s the one I like, right? I often wish I could ask someone to check my work. Perhaps I take it all just a bit too seriously (and could have used a bit of more of that in all those standardized tests over the years.) But I want to believe; a) it really does matter and b) you are what you say/do. So, yes I wake up more excited than any non-candidate has a right to be on voting day. And yes, I spend just a bit more time than is polite doing the actual voting. And yes, I’m always a bit bummed that I only get to do it once.

This would all indicate that I sit by my phone/TV/computer, watching exit poll results all day and into the night. No I do not. I find it all too stressful. On more than one occasion I’ve gone off to bed saying; “Wake me if he wins.” I can’t bear it, particularly after the 2000 Presidential election. I don’t do well with uncertainty and I’m not what you’d call a good loser. Crazy as it sounds, the results are secondary to the process (for me.) The communal act of voting, of gathering with neighbors and strangers to make ourselves heard is more powerful than the results. We are democracy in action. Those elected will go ahead and do a (hopefully good) job. In the end that’s all it really is: a job. But voting is a political and patriotic act and for this little voter, it never ceases to thrill.

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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Seizing Semantics

Have you noticed that once widely available words have been appropriated and winnowed down to the most streamlined of meaning? Take the word; family, for instance. Family once meant people one was connected to who did not fall into the category of friends. Hence the phrase; friends and family. Family could mean one’s family of origin, including generations past. Family could also reference those brought into the holiday fold year after year. Family could also be self-constructed, augmenting a loss of familial connections. The word was open to subtle interpretations but maintained a overall meaning of connectivity. These days you might hear several phrases touting the word ‘family’ that have nothing to do with human connection. For instance:

  • Family Values – Whose family values? Have you MET my family!? Or do you really mean ‘conservative values?’
  • Family Friendly – I think the phrase you may be searching for is “Child-centric” no? I assure you, your themed restaurant is not friendly to my family, it is our 7th circle of hell.
  • Working Families – Now if the children are actually grabbing their briefcase and headed for the 7:15, you have my full support.

Of course the same wholesale take-over of terminology is not new. “Faith” and “patriotism” have come to mean very specific beliefs and practices. Believing in the potential of human beings to be their best selves and to reach out and help up is a definition of faith. Believing that how we treat others is directly connected to the health of our souls is faith. But when we hear the word being bandied about it’s meant to communicate an adherence to an organized religion. When we hear calls of “patriotism” it most often is in reference to military support or flag waving. Those fighting; to separate church and state, or for freedom of speech or press are rarely referred to as patriots.

Politics and verity make strange bedfellows, that’s certain. But there’s no reason in the world the rest of us need follow and adopt the constricting definitions. Language is many things, including contagious. If we commit to using terminology that strikes us as more accurate or inclusive, others may very well follow. Our words are the most lasting and telling clues to our inner self. Our ability to create meaningful language is what in fact makes us human.

 
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Posted by on September 18, 2012 in Cultural Critique

 

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