I may not love electoral politics (I don’t like ‘em much at all) but I love to vote. Every time I push open the heavy doors at Smith Vocational High School and walk down the short hallway to our makeshift polling place, I get butterflies in my stomach. I can barely breathe when the pen, its ink has magical powers, is in my hand, so concerned am I that I may make an error while drawing the lines on the paper ballot. After greeting the people who sign me in and out, I feel like sailing across the polished floor, so glad am I to have successfully voted.
The thing I love about voting is this; it’s an affirmation of a democratic process, one that gives each person a vote. I am not naïve enough to think this is exactly how it works—or even that it works—but it’s such a noble idea and I feel better participating in it with full belief (or at least, suspension of disbelief).
In the weeks leading up to Barack Obama’s election just a year ago, I barely slept. I felt as if the future (our country’s, the world’s) really depended upon his getting into office. I was glued to the news outlets, the poll numbers, and caught up by an odd swingy emotionality of feeling completely hopeful and completely terrified all at once. And I didn’t cry a little when he won; I cried a lot.
Now, I know that my dreams—like many other people’s dreams—were too lofty; one man’s election cannot bring peace and justice and cleaner air to all (yet, perhaps his sway is demonstrable by the fact that Nobel Committee was so moved by his steps toward diplomacy they awarded the Peace Prize to him). Every time I try to imagine the McCain scenario, I’m deeply relieved.
Having said all that, I’d feel better still if we were sure to get a meaningful public option as part of a new health care bill. Much like a year ago, I find myself somewhat obsessed with the news of the day, wondering where the bill stands, whether the chance for the public option remains viable or is going to stall out. I find myself cheering Anthony Weiner and Sherrod Brown, booing Evan Bayh, Mary Landrieu and Joe Lieberman each evening as I watch the news. A meaningful public option stands to rebalance our country by offering a way to shore up more middle ground—the middle class, that is—again. Health care costs and insurance companies’ greed have both skyrocketed to a point where even having health insurance does not guarantee the ability to accessing necessary health care, and so many people cannot afford it to start. And health care really is a basic need, not an optional luxury.
For now, I’ll watch, write to elected officials, and hope.
Meantime, right here in my little city, there’s a mayoral race that disheartened me from the start. The candidates, Mayor Clare Higgins and former City Council President Michael Bardsley have worked together for years and have stood side-by-side on many—dare I say most—issues. That is to say, they both have public service records and much of what’s happened in this city over the past sixteen years rests upon both of their shoulders, both the good and the bad. Obviously, what’s happened in this city includes good and bad, during very tough economic times. The reason I was unhappy from the get-go was that it seemed to me nearly impossible that this contest was going to remain not just civil, but nice (that’s a poor word choice, but I am hard pressed to think of another one).
Whatever the word, there are friendships between the candidates and the people surrounding them that have been challenged through the campaign process. People are hopped up, and feel strongly about their candidate and what the election of one over the other means for the city’s future. Given the economy, the decisions ahead are especially fraught; there are concerns about keeping downtown vibrant, businesses afloat, schools strong, streets and infrastructure in good shape… Some of the issues aren’t terribly glamorous, but they are vital to the city’s wellbeing. So, I appreciate feeling passionately about what happens next.
Certainly, there’s been a “real” campaign (something that hasn’t happened in a long time, as Clare hasn’t been vigorously challenged in a long time), complete with debates, monies raised, and all the other essential campaign components. If you turned on the local radio (thanks, especially to WHMP) you could hear the candidates debating issues and you could listen to one-on-one interviews. The papers have covered the race extensively. If you want to determine the differences between the candidates, it’s very possible to do so for yourself.
Walk by my house and you can see I’m voting for Clare (we have a yard sign). I am doing so because I believe she’s done an admirable job through nearly impossible times and perhaps more so, I trust her leadership. Do I agree with every choice she’s made? I do not. There is no such thing as a perfect mayor. I think she’s been a very committed, smart, solid, realistic and compassionate mayor, and I’d like to see her continue her work for another term.
I’ve known both Clare and Michael for many, many years and I like them both and I respect and appreciate their contributions to public service a great deal. I hope that when Tuesday night’s results come in, there’s not just a clenched handshake; I hope there’s a hug, regardless of the outcome, and not just between the candidates but also their minions. The work ahead doesn’t change according to which person is elected and the fact that the people supporting each candidate have largely worked together over a long period of time is an important facet of this race. It’s their—our—working together that will keep the city as strong as possible through challenging times. Because the real work does not rest upon one person’s shoulders, the real work ahead relies—as the work up until now has—upon the entirety of the community pulling for its future.