There were only a few nights of my childhood when I was allowed to stay up late, and election nights were among them. My father taught political science at a university, and my parents hosted every-other-year, election-watch parties. The room would be full of political scientists who understood the intricacies of the precinct reporting and which tiny numbers on the small TV screen mattered more than others. I remember the excited chatter, the discussions, the fervent anticipation, and the eyes never too disengaged from the TV.
They leaned both left and right. I remember my father registering some tight-lipped annoyance at an outspokenly republican colleague, but nonetheless my father was cordial, serving his colleague snacks and punch from the bowl that came out only on special occasions. These were the late sixties and seventies, and these profs had come out on the other side of the Civil Rights marches and the anti-Vietnam war protests. Universities had survived. Democracy had survived. These academics studied the cogs of local and state and federal government. They watched regimes around the world, they understood political theory and political history, and truly, those nights felt nearly sacred. Despite where these professors fell on the political spectrum, the one underlying current in those parties was excitement to watch the democratic process at work. There was wonder and awe at this beautiful process called voting.
I realize that I am looking back with idealistic nostalgia. There has always been voter suppression. Gerrymandering was a term my father explained to me when I was under ten. Just yesterday, this article reminded me that people in power have always been slow to allow certain groups to vote. Half of our population- our women- weren’t allowed to vote until late in our country’s history.
But it staggers me that this week we have leaders encouraging intimidation at the polling places and questioning the assumption that every single vote should be counted. If we do not count votes, are we even a democracy?
I, like, many of you, struggle to find grounding in these gale force winds of political fervor and fear. It was bad enough that friendships have been severed because of political differences. But walls around the White House? Walmart banning gun sales on election day? Angry, armed people on the streets of small towns and big cities? Both sides seem to be convinced that if their side loses, the country is lost.
This might be the place where in the past I would have inserted a religious comment about the unshakeable God of the universe being in control. Yes, I do believe that truth still, though I have found myself less able to stomach the churches that might remind me of that fact, quick as they have been to align themselves with politics I cannot condone.
Layered over that big Godbelief though, is this one: the belief of my father. He has been gone for seven years, but I can imagine him talking to me. Look he would say: People are waiting eleven hours in a line to vote! They are coming in wheelchairs. They are driving across the country and flying on planes to their polling places. They are taking inordinate risks in a pandemic to vote. In every precinct, in every county, in every state, people fill in a bubble here or there, and in doing, say, our voices matter! It is proof, he would say, that Democracy will survive.
My father was an optimist. And I sure hope he was right.