I voted today. North Carolina is one of the early-voting states. I arrived at the polling place sometime after 2 p.m. and the parking lot was nearly full. Inside, there was a long line. I have never since I moved here seen so many people at the polls. I thanked the poll workers who helped me and so many others and commented to one of them about the numbers. "It's been this way every day this week," he said. (I had thought to myself that the high numbers might have something to do with its being a Friday afternoon.) "We've had about 900 people a day."
Everyone was serious and purposeful. There was a tiny bit of joking. No one said anything partisan. People waited their turn patiently and no one complained about the queue.
The comparison is not really apt, because for so many decades there was no vote for the people of South Africa, but still, the only event to which I can compare this is the first free democratic vote in South Africa, when the new photos showed us lines of people, patiently waiting, focused on their purpose, with a kind of buzz in the air that was in some ways more sober than jubilant. Government by, of, and for the people is serious business.
Like FranIAm and Grandmère Mimi, I have been obsessing about the election. For two hours before I voted and at least an hour after, I could not concentrate. I ran errands after going to vote, and at the bank I commented to the woman behind me on line (young, African American) how many folks I had just seen at the polls. "Everyone wants to get out there and make history," she said calmly.
I long for a president who will call us to service and sacrifice. We are a bloated and lazy nation in many ways --I count myself in the lot-- and it has been years, decades, since anyone has taken the lead in telling us that the energy crisis, the environmental crisis, the economic crisis, all of those and more, will require effort and self-denial on all our parts and collective work for the common good. It's our work our country needs and we need, not just "the government over there" or the corporations, though I long and call for their engagement and structural change and all the rest.
I pray that this will come to pass. I pray and I will defend to the end the rights of those who do not pray and do not wish to pray. I think Barack Obama has the potential to lead us in both hope and discipline --we need one as much as the other-- and I think it is hope that helps us to engage in discipline, and sometimes, if the discipline is healthy (a big if, I know, as abuses of political and religious power have forever shown) discipline that can lead to hope.
I pray also, in this nation whose religious liberty I will forever honor and whose establishment clause I firmly support, I pray for our nation and I pray for the safety of our candidates, of "that one" especially.
I am still stunned by the experience of voting this year. I have not seen an election like this since 1984. (Reagan's re-election and Mondale-Ferraro and the nuclear buildup.) In other ways I have never seen an election like this, and yes, race has something to do with it. I never dreamed that I would be involved in this kind of election, much less in the American South. (I am also remembering Jesse Jackson's candidacy, with all its flaws, and other predecessor events to this year's election.)
Perhaps I need not say, but I will say it anyway: the sacrifice and discipline of which I am speaking do not involve military violence.
The polar ice cap is melting, the economy is imploding, the poor are getting poorer, our soldiers die abroad, mothers clutch bone-thin children in Darfur and fathers weep for their daughters and sons in Israel and Palestine, and doggedly, with hope in our guts, we stand in line and vote.
Hope is not born in optimistic times. Hope is born in times of fear and dread and oppression and threat.
Hope and vote. Vote and hope.