Today I got the closest to voting I ever have in my entire life. Pretty much all of you know by now I am what was once known as a resident alien. I am not a gigantic green creature from another world but a legal immigrant with a green card. I have never voted in a US election (because I can’t) and never in a Canadian election (too boring, although given Canada’s newest progressive and hot Prime Minister, plus a possible need to emigrate back there if you know who wins, I may have to change my mind.)
I regret not getting US citizenship. Perhaps I was wrong, but I always felt intimidated about applying by the inescapable reality that I have 1300 pages of FBI files. Perhaps I was being paranoid but how could I answer honestly the question on the citizenship application about how often I had left the United States? And when? Algeria in 1969 to visit Kathleen and Eldridge? North Vietnam by way of Moscow and Cuba in 1970?
This election felt so different, so momentous, its potential consequences so dire that, while I have been saying for decades I feel like a woman before suffrage, this time I actually experienced first hand both that passion to be included, to have my voice heard and the depressing powerless not to be able to make that happen. Until this election, I did not fully understand how much I had been missing
Which is why I insisted that my boyfriend Art take me as close as I could get to be inside the voting booth at the Greenbelt Community Center in Maryland where Art lives and I visit. African Americans slightly outnumbered the whites lined up to vote; it was early in the day, the line tended toward the aging more than young families. The previous night Art and I had eaten at a reasonably expensive restaurant – not near as fancy as Chez Panisse but nowhere close to Chick A Fil. It amazed me to find equal numbers of white and black wait staff serving equal numbers of black and white customers as if it was the most natural thing in the world. A sight which I, from uber-blue, progressive Berkeley, have not seen in any of our excellent restaurants – from cheap to reasonably expensive. Perhaps it is the presence of the federal government that makes this part of Maryland so diverse yet racially integrated; if so, that only goes to show that paying a livable wage plus anti-discrimination laws can create a positive outcome. No wonder the right is so opposed to what they label big government!
When Stew and I lived in Oregon, with its vote by mail elections, I always said I had 1/2 a vote. Stew and I would sit at our kitchen table, read through the multi-page Oregon voter’s manual, look for names of friends we recognized who had endorsed a ballot measure or a candidate, discuss then pencil in the votes we both agreed on and drop our single, shared ballot in the mail.
Until today, this was the closest I ever got in my entire life to actually voting.
I must admit, I felt a frisson of what I can only describe as thrill as I walked with Art into what I knew to be an actual voting booth. It looked more like a place for Clark Kent to change into Superman than the traditional curtained enclosure I had only seen on TV; it was one in a row of 5 or 6 rows of identical tall tables, on top of three sides of each table stood a square of white cardboard, a box with one side missing, each side decorated with American flag decals. I have never felt patriotic about the US flag, for me it’s always been a symbol of imperial subjugation, but I have to say, in this Greenbelt Community Center first established by Eleanor Roosevelt, the sight of equal numbers of black and white women and men leaning over their tables filling in that paper ballot moved me. Especially since, despite the Trump signs I saw on the lawn on my way in, I knew Maryland to be among the bluest of blue states.
I stood with Art protected by our private cardboard enclosure and filled in a ballot for Hillary. I didn’t hold the pencil in my hand, exactly, I didn’t want in any way to validate Trump’s prophecy of a rigged election. But I was there, close in, close up, close enough to vote. Then I fed our paper ballot into a machine which read it, both sides at the same time, and viola – the ballot was accepted. I even get to wear an “I voted” sticker – although in actuality I hadn’t.
J. Edgar Hoover once chastised an FBI agent for his mistake in describing me as a “Canadian alien.” In Hoover’s pedantic view, I was not a Canadian alien but a Canadian citizen. Jerry Rubin once said that, since America affects the world, everyone in the world should vote in the American elections. Today I came close to that victorious feeing the fighters for woman’s suffrage must have had when they stepped into the voting booth and marked their ballots for the first time – at last.