Friday, October 24, 2008

Hope and discipline

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.


Fran said...

Today this blog is Acts of Voting Hope!

Lazy and bloated indeed. We must find ways to begin again.

lauraj said...

Yes, Jane, the lines here in Asheville continue to be long every day. Democrats outnumber Republicans voting 3 to 1. There was a quiet joy in the room the day I voted. This is serious business and I am so grateful to be part of it.

May he be safe.

johnieb said...

Thanks for the headsup; this is very good.

it's margaret said...


pj said...

Wonderful post, my friend! I have to wait until November 4. It's making me crazy. I vote dutifully in every single election, but I haven't been this excited since 1992.

What's happening in North Carolina right now is a joy to behold.

And amen, too.

Paul said...

Voting may well be the most important think I have done all year. Very serious business indeed. Which does not preclude doing it with a sense of joy. This is a year in which it was a joy to vote. But not an honor. It is my right and it is my duty.

Padre Mickey said...

Red Mr. Peanut Bank and his friends were very partisan tonight.

Thanks for sharing your story.

Ooh, the word verification is "embrain", which is what I gots.

janinsanfran said...

Lovely reflection. What is happening in this campaign is so remarkable, so essentially unexpected that we can't take it in entirely. I try to keep reminding myself that it is fine to simply feel it. Thinking about it can come later.

I drive toward Denver tomorrow, to work for the Obama campaign for the last week.

Ken said...

Well said. But there is a What If. If I have to channel Eeyore, so be it. Therefore: What If McCain wins. We here are giving some talk to leaving the country. Right now Barcelona is starting to get tossed around. If that sick man wins, it will be the complicity of a sick country, and I don't want to be here anymore.

Anonymous said...

Well said, Jane.

I voted last week by absentee ballot at a rural post office in Idaho. I was the only one there, and I asked the postmistress to witness my ballot. When I thanked her she answered "it was my honor."

I agree with Paul that it is a right and a duty to vote, but I think it is also an honor, especially when we all get out there and make history.

Thanks for collecting the sentiments expressed in this entry.

June Butler said...

Jane, what a post! Your experience was different from mine, and hearing about yours warmed my heart. It's way past time for folks to realize that it matters who runs our government, and these difficult times opened many eyes.

Obama brings hope to many and I pray to God that, if he is elected, he will have the courage to ask the people of the country to join with him to address the serious problems that we face today and to bring about a fairer and more just society.

Jane R said...

Dear Ken, My statement on hope will apply if McCain gets elected. It will apply all the more. I don't particularly want to think about it (as Spike Lee said to someone on NPR the other day "I can't think that way") but I will stand by what I have said.

1) This election, by its very process, will have changed us. We will have lived through it. No one can take that away from us.

2) Hard times are ahead no matter who gets elected. As I said, these are not optimistic times. I am not wildly optimistic. I'm hopeful. Big difference.

3) As I have said a semi-gazillion times before, paraphrasing the fabulous Howard Zinn: Pulling the lever for a candidate is important, but even more important is building a movement. Important as the election is and much as Barack Obama is a source of hope and potentially a great leader for this country, what matters is most is the common good. What gives me hope is the way in which people (not all, but enough) are waking up to the focus on the common good and to the fact that they have a right and responsibility to contribute to the common good -- and that they can. A good leader is one who wakes people up and involves them. Whether or not they "succeed" in their lifetime is an entirely different question. But they --we-- can (I am obnoxiously quoting myself, an old sermon after which I named this blog) commit acts of hope. In the worst of times.

Now have some tea and honey, Eeyore ;-).


Owl (or maybe I'm Pooh, who knows)

Ethan said...

thank you, Jane! I especially appreciated your decision to "say anyway" the fact that "the sacrifice and discipline of which I am speaking do not involve military violence." I am here in Nyack at FOR's national council meeting, and we heard tonight presentations from our Colombia and also our Youth & Militarism programs -- both with deep concerns on the practice and use of military violence.

btw, if you haven't already seen it, I hope you'll get to see the "" video on how "one person" lost the Election. I'll forward it your way, so you can spread it to every potential non-voter in North Carolina (& other battlegrounds). peace, Ethan

Algernon said...

Self-denial for the common good - now this is something that has gone out fashion in Washington rhetoric. It will be interesting to hear that speech, especially with all of the loose (and imprecise) chatter about socialism that's been rattling in our ears for months.

Doorman-Priest said...

I really pray you get the result you want.

Magdalene6127 said...

Amen, and Amen.

Anonymous said...

Jane, which early voting site did you use? I'm interested in getting a global and over-time picture of the voting process in Guilford County. So far, the big picture from many anecdotal reports seems to be consistently long lines and well-run polling sites.

I posted a similar report on the YES! Weekly blog, so I'll be linking to yours.