Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Election Day

This is not about politics. It's about voting.

If I were honest, I'd admit that when I woke up this morning, I figured there was no better than a 25% chance I'd vote. I'd received the voter "slates" sent to me by Mr. San Francisco and My Fashion Hero, who is a political consultant by trade, so I was informed, but the timing was horrible. Election day fell right in the middle of the bookfair, my largest volunteering commitment of the year.

This is the third (and final) year that I have co-chaired the BHDS bookfair with Jenny From the Block. Our job, as I have reminded her all year, is to make sure no one sees us sweat. Over the past three years we have assembled a team of people we can trust, so rather than do everything ourselves and then shoulder an heroic load of stress, we coordinate, fill in the blanks, organize, and, perhaps most importantly, make sure the process is enough fun that no one realizes they're putting in tons of hours, effort and sometimes their own money to raise money for a school they already commit $18,000 a year to.

This is our job. We juggle the personalities and appear to be light on our feet. And decide who can handle the news that our book supplier has screwed up our order yet again. Or that one of the people who's supposed to be selling stuff in our marketplace has stamped his foot and demanded better placement in the room. Or that it's 5:45 and the food has not shown up, but even worse, the carrots we bought a Costco are rotten.

Tomorrow, in fact, is the big event itself, the nighttime bookfair extravaganza. It'll be over like a flash, but I guarantee that, no matter how easy it seems at the time, 24 hours from now I'll feel like I've just completed boot camp.

Add to this the sorry fact that my 31-years-old-and-not-only-kidless-but-also-unmarried-and-DJs-on-weekends-for-kicks boss at the Biotech is wondering what the heck kind of responsibility that comes before work goes by the innocuous name "bookfair," and you can see that not letting anyone see you sweat is not as easy as it sounds.

With all of this going on, who can be expected to vote? Even frequent phone calls from the likes of Bill Clinton, begging me to get out there and vote are not enough to inspire me.

My favorite voting experience was 1998. I have no idea who or what I voted for. I just remember walking through a cold Autumn Seattle night with my wife and toddler and feeling an overwhelming wave of warmth as we entered Lowell Elementary school, a few blocks from our apartment. We voted, smiled at everyone, and then walked the tiny Jawa around the school, looking into the darkened classrooms and telling him that soon he'll be in a school this big.

What I like about voting is the sense of community spirit you feel when you are actually at he polling station. Even here in San Francisco, where everyone has their own righteous idea of exactly how you should be voting (and acting, and thinking as), they all fairly glow with civic pride at the thought of grassroots participation in democracy.

I was willing to forgoe that, today, but I never got the chance. Instead, as we walked home from soccer practice, the Jawa insisted I vote. Even though we weren't sure where to go, and even though I left my wallet at home, he was steadfast. We went by the house, got my wallet, and walked until we found the garage full of voting machines.

My Jawa is a political animal, which is interesting, because unique among Bay Area parents, I think, I've gone out of my way to avoid sharing my own political opinions with him. When he said he liked George Bush because he was "spreading democracy to the rest of the world," I said nothing. His interest, I think, is more important right now than the particulars. He changed his presidential opinion, by the way, during the 2004 Democratic convention. The then seven-year-old Jawa sat enraptured as John Kerry spoke -- which is difficult, given the Dem candidates lack of charisma. I didn't even realize the Jawa was in the room until Kerry mentioned something about "never going to war."

"That's what I want to hear!" exclaimed the Jawa, who then pledged alliegance to Kerry.

Last year I began taking the Jawa into the booth with me, getting his input, and actually letting him decide on the issues he felt strongly about. He usually picks a couple of propositions, ones that, at least on the surface, have big, obvious impacts that he can understand.

This year is was prop 86 (cigarette tax) and prop 87 (alternative energy exploration). He was in favor of both, but then changed his mind. I can't remember why, but he had pretty well thought-out explanations for his position shifts. He is 9, however, which I remembered as he urged me to vote for our incumbent district 8 supervisor, whose posters had a very cool drawing of a guy with a TV head.

I voted for him because his opponent was a Burning Man hippie. I am not 9.

So after all of this, and after he made me call Sandra Bullock so he could remind her to come home and vote, I had to hit the polls. We went, Shack in tow, cast our vote, and felt pretty good, even though a couple of my ballots clogged up the voting machine. A quiet alarm sounded, and the volunteer in charge of feeding the ballots into the machine eyed me suspiciously.

My first thought was that maybe the machine simply won't accept the ballots of people who cast no votes for any Green Party candidates. I thought of tossing out something to that effect, or nervously saying, "Okay, okay, I voted Republican! I'll do it again!" but that seemed as innapropriate as the time I told the baggage handler to be careful of my over-filled bag, because "if you open it, it might explode." I held my tongue.

A few hours later, Sandra Bullock voted in the back seat of a pollster's car. The long line, he explained, had him searching for alternative voting spots. Another woman voted while sitting on someone's front stoop. "Skid row voting," she commented, before she sat down and started filling out her ballot.

And again, even here in San Francisco, where mainstream thought is that the U.S. is on the brink of political collapse, the voting experience was simple, pleasant and even patriotic. Everyone was in a good mood. In fact, the gathering probably represented the most San Franciscans I've seen in one spot without hearing someone disparage the mayor, the governor or the president.

It's downright encouraging, and I'm glad for every opportunity I have to show to participate.


Blogger Bud and/or Marsi said...

i love voting - but every time i walk in that room at the community center to do it i think i bring the average age down to about 87.

8:30 AM  
Anonymous zelda said...

my only complaint about voting, as someone who consistently votes absentee just because having to wait in line at the polling place forever followed by the pressure to vote quickly so someone else can use my booth stresses me out, is that i never get one of those "i voted" stickers. those are cool. esp. the ones here in san francisco that also say "i voted" in spanish and chinese.

7:01 PM  
Anonymous the hammer said...

My basic, holier than thou philosophy about voting is that it is our civic duty (of course) and that, unless one votes, one has no right to complain about things or people political. That said, since I like to complain about everything and everyone, I must vote. I hate the so-called "calls" from all of my friends (former presidents, senators, etc) and the flyers (which are disposed within seconds after being removed from the mailslot) - I'll make my own, informed decision, thank you very much. What I really hate, is when we are expected to vote for judges, about whom the only info we're given is the name, with virtually no other info, in the official voting booklet or anything else. Are we expected to research their decisions and opinions on our own? Quite irritating. Fortunately, we are assigned a lovely polling place in a garage a couple of blocks away - never a line but lots of conscientious (sp)voters who actually make their selections prior to entering the booth. What a concept. We used to vote in an upscale senior citizens home - the very same place where Sen. Feinstein votes. The cameras were often waiting at the door (for us or her?), along with the well-dressed, wheelchair bound residents. Quite the scene.

I remember going to the poll as a child with Dad, with the ancient lever-operated machine. My brother and I used to fight about who would get to pull the levers. Memories - hard to get excited about drawing a line between the arrows, but good for you for bringing Jawa. I'm still at the point where when Shaman makes a general political announcement, I ask him what led to that decision and he looks at me blankly. Then I proceed to give him a basic civics lecture that makes his head spin and eyes cross. When do they teach that stuff in school, anyway?

Nuff said (probably too much).

8:52 AM  
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