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A Week Called VOTE

In the midst of a tough news cycle that seems, at times, endless, the vox populi, hopefully a good number of us, are poised to VOTE. I write this on the eve—solicitations pouring in, canvassers at the door, phone bankers leaving messages, yours truly among them. I live in the 19th Congressional District where voter allegiance is not obvious: blue enclaves in a red county. The stories we tell as the door opens matter. Yes, the current sheriff is a racist. No, the young man running against Congressman Faso is a Harvard-trained lawyer. Does it really matter to you that his skin is chocolate? The answer, sadly, is often “yes,” and not sotto voce these days. And why Latin phrases this morning? Thinking of the fall of Rome, perhaps.

Last Wednesday, after my NYU workshop, standing on line at Port Authority waiting for my bus back upstate, I talked again with the lovely Sarah, from Haiti, employed by Trailways to steer the confused hordes to the correct gates. She was reading the New York Post, a strange mix of scandalous semi-news and political savvy. Those old enough will remember Jimmy Breslin and his Runyonesque columns. Breslin would have loved Sarah. She has a big story—she is an immigrant from a beleaguered nation—but she also has the oomph and drive of a typical New Yorker. She’s incensed: how dare 45 say that her 27-year-old son has no “birthright.” On she goes into the discourse, 1/3rd French, 1/3rd Creole, 1/3rd English. Regardless, we understand each other perfectly. Eavesdropping on our conversation—Gulin, from Turkey—a graduate of SUNY New Paltz, working now for an international company in Istanbul. She's been living with despotism and round-ups of journalists for fifteen years, so she gets what is going on here right now-- the warning signs, the slow, incremental, despotic rhetoric. But what she doesn’t understand is the low voter turn-out. How can anyone justify or explain abstention in what is still a “free” country?

Two security guards at the building where I teach—one an immigrant, the other a Native New Yorker—are not even registered to vote. What is their story? Their explanation? I am an educator and patiently I attempt to educate. But I am interrupted by another security guard, this one with a holster on her hip and a mouth like a big gun,who cannot abide ignorance or abstention. She lets these two younger security guards have it and stomps off.

We are on high alert, all of us. How to relax? One of my students suggests some Jane Austen this week (consoling sentences), another some junk on Netflix or Prime. My husband and I are glued to the well-plotted “Bodyguard,” a British production. During an interview with the police, a sleazy politician, suspected of passing along a bomb to the Home Secretary’s aide says, insouciantly, “We are not murderers, we are politicians.” That sentence haunted me in my sleep last night. I was so restless that this blog post surfaced as soon as I opened my eyes. “We are not murderers, we are politicians.” It’s a brilliant metaphor because, of course, the opportunistic, inhumane policies of some of our politicians kill people. All the time.

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