Some kids grew up in homes where parents watched football and hosted superbowl parties.
My parents, on the other hand, hosted parties to watch election returns. They had a really big party every four years. It was the one school night I was allowed to stay up late, way past bedtime. So perhaps that residual excitement is the first of many reasons why I like election day.
My father taught in the political science department at the University of Kansas, and it was these men and their wives who were invited to watch the votes tally up which determined our country’s leaders. These were political scholars, political historians, political experts. Although they certainly had political leanings and partisan views, I don’t remember ANY rancor or anger or arguments. Democracy was the thing they studied, taught, and believed in, and voting day was the apex of the governmental process that they cherished. People in every corner of America casting votes in a private place without coercion and fear? Election day was worth celebrating. It was almost holy.
I have lived in places where democracy was not assured. I was a child when we drove through Central America, but it was not lost on me that the men with guns patrolling the governmental buildings of Tegucigalpa (Honduras, 1962) were the same ones who had used their guns to stage a coup d’etat in the not too distant past. I knew even then that coups were scary things.
In Pakistan, 1960, in a village on a pleasant, blue-skied day we met a tribal leader. I was little (less than four), so I was not aware of the weightiness of the occasion. My father explained later that this leader was a man who wielded “ absolute” power over the villagers: if he decided a man would die, he would die. If he decided a man should live, he would live. There were no courts, no juries, no system of constitutional law to consider. And certainly, there would have been no voting.
In Uganda, I saw first hand the effects of a war where a half million people suffered because one horrible man and his friends wanted political power. Joseph Kony and his LRA spent twenty years abducting children to fight his war, massacring thousands upon thousands of mothers and sisters and grandfathers who stood in his way. For a summer, I taught kids who had been his victims. Oh, if only votes instead of violence could have decided those leaders…..
Which brings me back to tomorrow. I’m appalled by Donald Trump and not enthralled by Hillary. But I will vote. I am enough of an optimist (and enough my father’s daughter) to believe that whatever consequences come as a result of the votes tomorrow, it will not “do in” our democracy. ( We will, however, have work to do to heal divides. And if Trump wins, we will have to find our way to kindness.)
I could have voted early, but I didn’t want to. I like the process of standing in line, chatting amicably with my neighbors knowing I agree with some and disagree with others. I like feeling grateful, for that moment in the booth, for this country where I live, for this democracy that means my vote matters.