BRIAN SMITH Editor in Chief
I cast my vote for the next President of the United States on Thursday, Oct. 30 during Chatham County’s early voting program at the Savannah Civic Center. This was my first chance to vote – I missed the age requirement by a few months in 2004. What I expected out of my voting experience – nervousness about the reliability of vote-casting technology, registration issues and last-minute political face-offs quickly faded out. Instead, I was overwhelmed by something I thought I’d never see in late October of 2008.
I haven’t said much about politics lately. I avoid conversations where I have to divulge my opinions on policies and who I’m voting for. I don’t want my stance on government to interfere in any way with my relationships with other people. It’s not at all that I’m apathetic – I just keep my mouth shut.
Last month, I was sitting in a Taco Bell parking lot when my mother phoned me with a political agenda. My heart sank. I’d put a lot of effort into not talking about it at all, especially with family. Her quick call snowballed the following week into various e-mails filled with rumors, hearsay and propaganda. “Three former Fannie Mae executives served on the Obama campaign as chief economic advisers” and “A well-written letter to Mr. Barrack Hussein Obama” [sic] stood out as subject lines.
The first e-mail, concerning Obama’s economic advisers, I debunked through a Snopes report confirming that nothing in the e-mail is true. The second I responded to with links to “well-written” commentaries from writers for reputable publications like the New York Times, Slate and the Washington Post, who are recognized as educated political analysts and professional writers and take the time to spell the name of the person they’re chastising correctly.
I was furious. Not because my mom was forwarding me these false-claiming e-mails, or that these radical chain e-mails exist, but that she was considering these e-mails as truth. My mother, the one person I love the most in this world, was falling into the trap.
After I responded to that economic adviser rumor, my mom restored my faith in her integrity. She told me that she was “collecting information [from her friends and relatives] in order to make an intelligent decision on Election Day.” Thank god. I pride myself in being an independent voter seeking the truth and wish everyone else had the same insight to make their own decision, rather than riding a bandwagon all the way to the polls.
I proposed to her that I’d continue sending her informed and interesting published opinion articles from professional writers and political analysts and defrauding false claims she received that attack candidates, as long as she remained an interested and independent decision-maker seeking the truth about the circus that is America’s political system.
Things started to look up – she received my analyses and I’m assuming they informed her vote at least somewhat. No longer were our e-mail conversations divided by party affiliation. We were united as mother and son, seeking a vote that reflects our own individual beliefs. We were looking at information and facts together, despite our eventual difference in choice.
The last political e-mail I received from my mother was backed by her boyfriend. He had her attach an e-mail he sent his nephew comparing Barack Obama to Mao Zedong, Joseph Stalin, Vladimir Lenin, Adolf Hitler and, through a YouTube video, Fidel Castro.
Was my attempt at informed unity lost? Where did that sense of family go? Was propaganda still flowing strong in my hometown household? Was intellectual research abandoned? With two weeks until Election Day, I gave up.
Last Thursday, I waited for two hours in a line that wrapped a long U-shape around the upstairs lobby of the Civic Center. It was lunch hour, crowded and the heat was pumping. I filled out the form and joined the line behind two black ladies trading off holding the older one’s one-year-old daughter. Filing in behind me was another family of black men and women; one’s name was Shirley.
Shirley was a big smiling woman wearing nurse garb – a pastel floral-patterned scrub shirt, muted pink pants and white sneakers. She immediately began interacting with the one-year-old girl. The mother set the girl on the ground, and she stood there balancing awkwardly as Shirley crouched down and coaxed her over, waving her fingers. The girl stood there looking at Shirley, reaching an arm out to her, but took a knee. She was afraid to walk on her own.
The girl’s mother told us about her trials in getting the child to walk. She could walk while holding her mother’s hand, but couldn’t take a step on her own. Shirley kept coaxing her over, “C’mon mama, you can do it!” Shirley took a step closer to the unsteady baby. I now stood next to her, the girl looking at the both of us. I lent my encouragement and the girl smiled even more, grabbing at the plastic ball hair ties in her hair.
Eventually, the girl dropped to her hands and knees and crawled to Shirley. I laughed and looked up and everyone else was watching, up and across the line, all over. Everyone was smiling and laughing. We were all there, joined in waiting for this baby girl to take her first steps. All of us, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, liberal, conservative. Americans.
Shirley sat in a folding chair she brought next to the line holding the little girl in her arms. She told the mother which shoes to buy the girl, where to buy them, how to keep them on her feet and how keeping them on will strengthen her ankles so she’ll be more confident in walking independently. The girl played with Shirley’s pocket book and bounced around giggling. The line started moving and Shirley stayed put in her chair.
As we moved up, I could hear Shirley talking to everyone who passed her. She reunited with a long-lost fellow high school grad and friend; they embraced and reminisced. She talked to a young white couple about what they’re going to school for. She was interested in everyone, and politics wasn’t mentioned once.
The last I heard about the election from my mother was in another phone call. She was tired of all the political jabber. She was ready to vote and forget about it, and I was relieved. Then, she read me a note her boyfriend wrote to me. He wanted to make a friendly wager with me, that assuming Barack Obama is the next President, he will eventually fail in various aspects that were stipulated in the note. I refused to respond.
When I got to the end of the voting line, I walked into the polling room with Shirley, her family and the little girl’s family in front of me. I don’t know whom she voted for. I don’t know whom anyone in that line voted for. I didn’t think about it, and I don’t care. We were united as Americans, as a family. This is what matters. In the end, when the votes are calculated and the next President is announced, when the debates are settled and the bumper stickers are scraped off, let’s focus on what matters again.