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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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Stuck In The Middle With You*

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We don’t like to discuss social class, period. Perhaps it’s a relic from our British independence. When Americans talk about class what we’re really talking about is money. We believe that if you have a place to live and that place is not a castle, you are middle-class. Everyone is middle-class; it’s like being above average. For some the designation is a badge of honor, for others it’s a disingenuous humility. Periodically an elected official or government agency will declare what the economic threshold is for middle-class. Sometimes they even include the ceiling on the perimeter. It really doesn’t matter as everyone wants to call themselves middle-class.

What we deign to call ourselves is hardly significant. Clearly it’s important to us, but doubtful that it’s important to anyone else. Introduce yourself at parties as a stay-at-home actress/scrapbooker/snackatarian and note how quickly the interviewer resumes talking about themselves. When classifications matter is when they’re used to make larger points or policy. By viewing economic class as an ideal rather than a reality we risk working against our own best interests. Recently we’ve begun to embrace discussing the economic upper-class; we now call them the 1%. But we still shy from identifying or discussing the working-class. During the most recent presidential election we used terms such as “working families” which is close, but mostly just conjures child labor. We also have started using the term “working-poor” which has more to do with a livable wage and full-time employment opportunities than an economic class. There are wage, tax, healthcare and many other public policies that potentially affect the working class more than any other group.

It’s not that surprising that we’ve evolved to this point. There was a time when we discussed class irrespective of income. People came from a working-class background, or they were middle or upper-class. However, we used the terms with hushed voices and a bit of self-consciousness. We are a culture obsessed with the outcomes of these delineations but hesitate to discuss the cause. We spend a great deal of time trying to make our country abide by social middle-class values but don’t label them as such. (Ironically the United Kingdom, the mother ship of the class system, views middle-class values as something to be avoided.) It’s interesting that in a society that enjoys talking about the melting pot, diversity and inclusion, we feel rather strongly that everyone should really embrace the same values. It’s why we all identify as middle-class. Americans are averse to the social class system (but we do obsess about the Royal family. It’s all so confusing this relationship we have with the homeland.) We see class not as static, as do our friends across the pond, but as something we transcend. We are a pull yourself up by the bootstrap kinda country. Where you’re born in not where you are to stay (unless it’s at the top.) Therefore when we talk about class we tinge it with aspiration. It’s like calling someone a “bride-to-be” or “rising senior.” It’s about where you’re going not where you are.

But what you call yourself and how you see yourself are two different things. How you identify, at a party or elsewhere, is immaterial, but it matters a great deal politically. Too many of us support candidates and parties who are most definitely working against our best interest because we want to identify with them. Some candidates intentionally make themselves very relatable to the working-class but are no friend to the policies that (disproportionally) affect the group. There is an old adage that you should dress for the job you want (not the one you have.) When it comes to voting; you should vote for where you are, not where you hope to be.

*Stealers Wheel (1972)

 
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Posted by on August 2, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

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