The Spirit of My Mother on Voting Day
I just voted in Manhattan at the 73rd District, the same place that our current “ruler” votes, or did vote before he was president. Like many of my older friends who have lost parents in recent years, I often express relief that my mother died during the oh-so-sane (or seemingly so, in retrospect) Obama years. My mother, the ultimate liberal, who listened to Amy Goodman on Democracy Now every morning, would have been apoplectic about the state of the United States under the current administration.
My mother died just two months shy of her 101st birthday. The Happy Birthday card she received from the Obama Family on September 20, 2013, still sits on a bookshelf in her apartment gathering dust. Because I never notified the post office of her death, we still receive her absentee ballots in the mail. I must admit that I have occasionally entertained the idea of casting votes for her in perpetuity, but I am much too law abiding a person to do any such thing. I tear the ballots up and recycle them.
Both of my parents were politically active during my life with them. They always voted, so, naturally, as soon as I could vote, I did as well. We all took voting–and all that led up to an election–very seriously. My very first inkling of the intensity of emotion an election could evoke, occurred when I was pretty young, probably around five, when I found my teenage sister sobbing in front of the television because Adlai Stevenson had been defeated by Ike in the presidential election. More clear in my mind is the lead up to the 1960 presidential election. My extended family (grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins) drew up dining room chairs and crowded the small sofa at my grandparents Long Island home to watch the Kennedy-Nixon debates. My grandparents may have watched the schmaltzy Lawrence Welk Show each week but they took politics seriously and were democrats through and through.
During the sixties, my parents and I allied ourselves with candidates who supported civil rights and opposed the War in Vietnam. I supported Eugene McCarthy over Robert Kennedy and was crestfallen when Hubert Humphrey won the nomination. However, when Nixon beat Humphrey and became president in 1968, I found out that it did matter who you voted for even when the choice was not ideal. There is always a better choice and that choice–however slight the difference–makes a difference. Yes, Humphrey was more of a hawk than I wished for; no, he had not stood against the War the way McCarthy had, but he was clearly a more decent and rational individual than Tricky Dick.
In my mother’s final year, she often despaired. She wanted the world to right itself during her lifetime. “I guess I’m never going to see the world a better place before I die,” she said to me. She left the world worrying about the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, the torture of prisoners all over the globe, and climate change. What would she have made of babies torn from their mothers at the border? of children kept in cages? of Nazi chants in Charlottesville?
As I walk in to the public school and board the elevator with an elderly woman and a young one, I feel my mother’s presence urging me on: to have faith in this electoral process despite the daily horrors Donald J. Trump has inflicted on the American people for the last two years. A strange pride takes hold of me as I take hold of my two-page paper ballot. How many times I have voted before, but this time it feels different. It’s as if I am voting for the electoral process itself. Democracy is what’s at stake as I gather my courage to hope that a very blue and cleansing wave (blue-indigo-violet and large) is coming.