|Suffragettes don't let other suffragettes brush their teeth alone.|
When I was a little girl I lived in three worlds: the world around me, the world of my books, and the imagined realm, which was a space made up of the first two worlds. I had this costume box, which was supplied for me by my mother. I could often be found wearing hodge podge silk pieces, plastic jewelry and strange shoes that didn't fit my feet. Little scarves wrapped around my extremities transported me back in time. I traveled back with my dolls. They became the characters in the books I was reading. They became the made up heroines of my play and they became the great historical women that I was learning about at home and in school. We traveled as a pack and I, like any lover of stories, recorded our thoughts in these tiny doll sized journals that my mother had purchased for our adventures. I lived many mini-lives before the age of ten. I was, clearly, a very odd child.
Recently I was sorting through childhood knick knacks and I found a bag full of these itsy bitsy journals. The pages were so small that I could only fit a few words on each page as I still had large child scrawl. As I flipped through the pages, something stood out to me. I had taken up twenty two pages to write: "Amy (name of beloved girl doll with no hair), today women got the right to vote. They were hungry then they won. There are sad things still but everything is changed forever." I am imagining that I wrote this because I had just read, or had read to me, a story about women's suffrage in the United States. I'm imagining that I didn't fully understand the whole story and yet there is no other topic that got as much page space in all of my doll sized journals. There is nothing else that warranted such an epic, twenty-two page, entry. My little child brain knew, even then, the value of that particular history. It was clear that getting the vote meant something, something I was too young to fully understand, yet something awe inspiring.
I have not always carried over this inherent understanding of what a gift it is to have a vote. I have not always maintained the level of awe that I first had when I learned about the fight for suffrage. When I was a teenager I still lived in a fantasy world, but I had discovered sarcasm and the ever so ineffable and cool culture of "not caring". Although I generally did not live in the space of believing that nothing mattered, I said something that to this day shames me to the core. It was something that I didn't mean. It was something I said because I'd heard it said and I thought that perhaps it was dark and poetic. I was talking to one of the women who lived next-door to me about politics. It was not presidential election year, but we were discussing who we thought would be president next. She asked me if I was excited to be old enough to vote in the next election. She asked this question so earnestly and I answered in such a glib way that it still makes me almost cry when I think of how insensitively and how arrogantly I responded. I said something like, "You know none of that matters. Nothing in the system matters. I am not even going to vote. Every candidate is only a puppet. They don't do anything." It was so out of character, as if I was playing a character in one of my elaborate fantasies. She looked at me with sadness and compassion probably knowing that I was speaking from a place of teenage angst and said, "Guerita (childhood nickname), you get to vote and so many of us don't, please don't waste the thing you have been given." I grew up in Los Angeles, in a neighborhood were many people did not have papers. My comment, although speaking to a few true things, in any space would have been ill informed and smug, but in the context of my home was downright ugly. I had a physical sensation that I imagine to be similar to a hot flash. I had, for a moment, lost the understanding that people fought for my right to particate in our governmental process and that it is my privilege to be able to have a voice, even in a system is deeply corrupted.
Over the past few months I've had countless conversations about the election with various friends. Some are voting for Romney and many are voting for Obama. I'm imagining some will get to the polls and in a fit of disillusioned creativity cast a vote for Tina Fey or, horror of all horrors, Honey Boo Boo. A common thread in the conversations I've had are that people feel disenchanted with the process. I've had a hand full of friends speak about voting as if it is as pivotal to survival as breathing, but I've had just as many, if not more, people say that they aren't sure they are going to vote because in the end none of it matters as the candidates are the same and it is only a process that divides people by creating single issue voters. Neither candidate is good. Neither candidate will save us. I have not always known how to directly respond to these comments because to a degree I agree that without campaign finance reform and voting practice reform candidates are mouth pieces for corporations and all voters do not have equal access to the polls. The candidates do not stand fully for the issues and platforms that we, no matter what side of the political spectrum we fall on, subscribe to. They are not perfect representations so it is all ruined. I have always railed against the if it's not perfect it's ruined doctrine. I think that all of these points are valid. I become more than a little angry thinking about how many people who go out to vote will not be able to stand in line and wait for their turn because the lines are so long, and the process so inefficient, that they'll leave without voting lest they lose their job or show up late to pick up their children from day care. Or perhaps there will not be chairs for people who are ill to sit in while they wait and they will not have their vote counted. There are countless issues with our political system. I could spend my entire lifetime listing them. There are a lot of reasons to believe that ones' vote doesn't matter. If you're from a state that always goes for the party you vote for maybe you feel like it's a drop in the bucket. The weight of our vote is different depending on what state and district we vote in.
Yet in the face of all of these depressing realities that mar the once bright shiny face of suffrage that my child mind so loved, there is the reality that if we have the right to vote and the ability to vote it is a gift as much as it is a right for us to go out and participate in our government because whether or not we acknowledge it fully all branches of our government impact our lives. The act of voting matters and who we are voting for matters.
It is no surprise to anyone that knows me that I am voting for Obama. This is not because I see him as perfect and Romney as evil. It is not because I believe that the democrats will save us all and the republicans will signal our collective demise. This is a human system that the candidates are operating in. They are both flawed. They are both gifted. I am voting this way because in the face of the disappointments in the past four years, I have been moved by Obama's administration. Our government has expanded the rights of people in this country in numerous ways. We are moving towards a greener, if not yet green, economy. For all of its flaws, we have passed a measure of universal healthcare. This is no small thing. Healthcare is a human right. One only needs to have one episode, or have a loved one have an episode, of illness to recognize this. Moreover I want Obama to be appointing justices to the highest courts. This is an administration that to the degree it can recognizes and supports the progression of human rights in our country. I cannot vote against it because it is because of people who have subscribed to the belief that access to rights needs to be increased for all people that I, as a woman, get to cast a vote at all.
I have had many friends say that they are voting for Obama for "x" reason (insert gay marriage rights, dream act, Obama's view that women belong in the realm outside Lisa Frank's canvas of choice, foreign policy, etc...) and have had a number of friends say that they are voting for Romney for "y" reason (almost universally the answer has been due to his fiscal policy, abortion beliefs, or gay marriage doctrine). Although it is so natural to vote this way because as people we have issues that impact us more than others, I keep reminding myself in my own voting process that even though I might be voting for a few issues I really am voting for the whole package. I do not just get to vote for Obama because his administration increased access to healthcare, has created funding for alternative energy sources, publicly supported gay marriage, and will probably support justices whose rulings I agree with. When I am voting for him I am also voting for some of his foreign and domestic policies that I disagree with heartily. I have to decide if it is worth it to vote for him. In the same vein when someone tells me that they are voting for Romney for fiscal reasons I see that it is probably true. They probably are voting because they believe his economic plan to be more sound and they align themselves with conservative fiscal policies and yet they are not just voting for Romney's fiscal policies. They are also voting for a candidate that has made his point perfectly plain that he will be working to overturn women's healthcare rights, universal healthcare rights, and will stop the progression of the rights that accompany marriage for gay couples. It's all so frustrating and complicated.
It is not a necessity to vote and there are many good reasons that a good many people are not voting. Yet I think that voting when we have the right and access to vote can be an act of integrity as we are honoring the voice that has been given to us, generally by the hard work of people who came before us who believed themselves and all the people following them worthy of suffrage. In the same vein I believe it to be an act of integrity to go to the polls or the mail in ballot fully aware of the package that we are voting for, knowing that when we cast our vote for Romney or Obama, or the other candidates whose names are not branded onto our brains by the incessant commercials that have been running non-stop for months, we are casting a vote for all the things their platform stands for. We may not believe in every position, but we are voting for it. I think that, at least when I, face this reality I recognize more fully that my vote does matter.I am prioritizing certain issues, paths, and legislative ideologies. In the same vein I am sacrificing other things that matter to me. It is hard to live in a state of disconnected angst about the political system when I think about how when we truly vote in a conscientious way we must put our beliefs on the line and make decisions that may seem small, but in actuality are very big. The act of voting can and perhaps should be our way of stating what matters to us most and what we are willing to sacrifice. It forces us to say something about ourselves.
This entry has rambled. I have talked about dolls, doll journals, smug teenage angst, suffrage, and my soapbox. The main point of all these musings is this: I feel incredibly fortunate to have the right to vote. I believe that as important as it is to recognize the power of suffrage it is equally important to recognize that who we vote for matters and moreover that we are voting for them and their platform as a package.
I wrote to my bald girldoll Amy so many years ago that there are still sad things, but that everything is changed forever. As an adult voter I now lack the bright eyed idealism of my childhood self running about in silk skirts pretending that I was part of the women's suffrage movement. I still maintain though that suffrage can and does change most everything. That change may not be as shiny as I, or we, would like it to be. It is marred by political games, but the change we can enact with our votes is real and it is deep.