Sunday, November 4, 2012

Bowties and ballot boxes

I got a call yesterday morning from my mother, who'd found that I still have some stuff in her attic; I'd thought I'd finished with all that. My parents were having some repairs to their roof, so she wanted me to come over, sort through what I had up there, and make a run to the dump with my dad to get rid of the trash.

So, I went over, and I found many things, including lots of trash, lots of mouse poop, lots of sand in an old camp trunk, lots of amazing old clothes and costumes. But the first memory-flooded thing I found was this:

By the time I started my senior year in high school, the convention was done, Paul Simon was long out of the race. But I had loved him. I agreed with him on so many things, and thought the bow-tie thing was kind of great, and then he went on Saturday Night Live with the other Paul Simon, and I was a goner. I had never yet been involved in a political campaign, and I didn't get involved with his, either, aside from wearing that button on my jean jacket. He was the first candidate I remember loving on my own, without regard for who my parents were supporting.

When my senior year started, it was just after Labor Day 1988, and I was 17. I took a quarter-long Social Studies class called "Election '88," in which we learned about — and got involved in — the process. I lived in Massachusetts and Michael Dukakis was my candidate. I worked on his campaign in Boston, making phone calls, mostly. On election night, they dispatched me and a couple of others to another site with more phones; we called West-Coasters until the game was undeniably over. I was sad but still thrilled by the whole thing of it. I'd tried to make a difference; I'd done literally all I could, since voting was still not an option. Trudging back through the Combat Zone in Boston in defeat with two boys from Brandeis was like a scene from a movie.

And that year, my friends and I got involved in other ways, too. We even went to interminable open town meetings (at which I still could not vote) to protest budget cuts for a school I spent most days complaining about. I listened to every passionate person in town, crackpot or not, say whatever they had to say, for hours on end.

Four years later, I was a senior in college and worked for Bill Clinton's campaign. He was the first winner I ever backed. I found my patriotism that year.

I voted for Nader in 2000 because I believed in him and because I believe in third parties, even though I lived in arguably a swing state. I'm not sure I'd do it again under those circumstances, but I am not sorry I did it then.

I voted for Hillary Clinton. I voted for Barack Obama.

Last winter, I voted for Fred Karger in the Republican primary. There are folks who've said it's cynical of me to vote for a candidate who has no chance, from a party you don't want in office. I say I voted for a queer for president on a major-party ticket, and I wish every act of cynicism I've committed had made me feel that good.

Tuesday, I'll vote for President Obama again, and Maggie Hassan, and a bunch of other people. I'll vote on some ballot questions.

You're voting, too, right, or already did? Even if it's not the same way I will?

Day 4 of my moth of gratitude: I am thankful to live in this country, not because it's "the greatest nation in the world" (what does that even mean?), as the folks running for office will tell you, but because I like the voice it offers me. And I am thankful for the hope, for the forgiveness, for the opportunity implicit in that.

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