Friday, November 7, 2008
Election Day: A Carlisle snapshot
Oh, what a day it was! Gorgeous weather, a smoothly operating polling place, and steady traffic streaming past people walking to and from Town Hall on the pathways. Election Day 2008 was one for the history books and Carlisle voters were excited to be part of this extraordinary election.
At 10:30 a.m., I was voter #1313 according to the venerable wooden ballot box. There was no line and I zipped through the process in under five minutes. During my brief visit, I was reminded that introducing small children to the voting process is a time-honored tradition. As I marked my ballot, I heard a mom explain, “Now we fold over our ballot.” A tiny voice asked why. “So no one can see how we voted. It’s private” answered the mom. The child asked, “And then it goes into the box?” (This was apparently the most exciting part of the outing.). Yes, said the mom, and they left to have their ballot cranked.
During the long day, Town Hall operated like a well-oiled machine, thanks to the Herculean efforts of Town Clerk Charlene Hinton and Election Wardens Kerri Piette and Eva Herndon, who organized our local election, and the volunteers. One innovation that contributed to the hassle-free environment was stationing a volunteer at the entrance to Town Hall. She directed voters to the proper table for sign-in, which kept the lines moving.
The shuttle bus from Kimball’s – another innovation to make the voting process run smoothly – had a few runs in the morning, but was suspended by the afternoon. Voters were able to park in the center and walk on the pathways; some even found parking available in the Town Hall parking lot.
The long lines that voters had anticipated never materialized. Voters leaving Town Hall were asked by people walking there, “Is there a line?” There wasn’t. Polls opened at 6 a.m. and at 5:55 a.m. there was a traffic jam on Westford Street. About 30 crack-of-dawn voters were inside Town Hall waiting for the official start of Election Day. Throughout the day a steady stream of voters flowed through Town Hall and at 8 p.m., the official closing time, election workers were amazed to find no line waiting to vote. “Very unusual,” observed one long-time volunteer.
Then the tallying began. The Clark Room was packed with 30 teams (one Democrat, one Republican or one unenrolled voter) who counted packs of ballots in the time-honored, non-electronic way. Counting was over by 10:15 and around 1 a.m. official results were posted on the Mosquito email list, on Larry Bearfield’s Pickle Barrel E-News and on the Town Hall door and other locations around town.
It was a long and historic day for approximately 100 election workers, 3,231 Carlisle voters, the Police Department that kept traffic moving and for those of us who stayed up late to watch Senator McCain’s gracious concession and President-Elect Obama’s inspiring speech at Grant Park in Chicago.
It was a day of pride in our town and renewed hope for our country.
Mad men and the election
The television series Mad Men takes viewers back to the early sixties when Americans were beginning the painfully slow process of addressing the consequences of generations of sexist and racist beliefs, although race has thus far been as marginal in the series as the black maids and elevator operators in occasional scenes. Despite, or perhaps because of, the progress of the past 45 years, seeing sexism and racism portrayed onscreen can be viscerally powerful. It is almost painful to watch the suffering of the characters who are limited in their ability to cope by the same forces that oppress them. Just as we can’t keep the next victim in a horror film from opening that door, we are powerless to help these fictional stand-ins for our parents’ generation with the lessons we have learned over the succeeding half-century. Some of the discomfort also comes from the realization that we ourselves still have much to learn.
I was heartened by a recent NPR story about union members making calls on behalf of Barack Obama. The callers expressed surprise when some of their co-workers – with whom they worked side-by-side and who happily worked side-by-side with blacks – calmly identified race as the main reason they wouldn’t vote for “that one.” The heartening part came from descriptions of the many conversations that ensued wherein the callers were able to successfully challenge the illogic of people voting against their own self-interest (economic and otherwise) because of antiquated notions of race.
This double enlightenment – the realization that racist views exist in unexpected places, along with the discovery that some of the individuals holding those views can be enlightened through plain talking with their fellow citizens – is one of the positive outcomes of the historic election that has just taken place.
Changing long-held views is no easy task. Change is inherently scary; people tend to stick with what they know: “There’s no place like home.” But change is also appealing: “The grass is always greener on the other side of the hill.” It is no coincidence that both campaigns have used “Change” in their campaign slogans. (A lame duck incumbent with historically low approval ratings is clearly a contributing factor!)
The change an Obama presidency will bring is more fundamental than any policy proposals. But the fact that an Obama victory would validate his ability to transcend race (due to his experience, intelligence, temperament, and willingness to listen to opposing views) doesn’t mean that as a nation America is equally transcendent. The latest McCain ad concludes with “Obama isn’t ready to lead… YET.” The surface argument is about national security, but the meta-message may be to suggest that America is just not ready for a black president YET.
Due to our unfinished business at home, many abroad who believe in the promise of America have questioned our global commitments. An Obama presidency will help ease such doubts. Neither America nor the world will come to an end when the occupant of the White House isn’t a white male. As a thoughtful, open approach to government begins to have a salutary effect on our lives here and America’s reputation abroad, the hope of the Obama candidacy will transform into the reality of his presidency.
My hope is that an Obama presidency will ultimately make us less conscious of race. Addressing that consciousness is just a part of the process. And after we’ve had a few female presidents we can stop worrying about that one, too.
© 2008 The