Four years ago, my kids were just seven and nine, so a Presidential election fell into a category similar to Student Government. They knew it was more significant than the school bakesale or canned food drive, for more people, but they knew it in kid terms. This year, at eleven and just about thirteen, they seem engaged in the process and the effects of the vote. When I told them about Dixville Notch at breakfast this morning, they really got a kick out of it.
They are particularly interested in the candidates as people, where they grew up, what their families were like. Joe Biden’s story of loss was compelling, as was Barack Obama’s, especially since he was raised by a single mom. Yesterday, my younger daughter said, “Only if she could have made it one more day,” referring to Obama’s grandmother. She really felt bad for him. John McCain’s prisoner of war story, though removed from experience they could imagine, still garnered empathy.
I am excited to share the day with them today. They tried to clear off as much homework as they could last night, so they can watch the returns this evening. We are going to eat hamburgers and French fries and brownies with flags in them. All of the American flag toothpicks were sold out, so I got the collection of world flags, which is just as appropriate, if not more so. We’ll have blue plates and a red tablecloth and it will be the best.
Next time, my older daughter will be a year away from voting herself. I don’t think she has realized this yet. Maybe tonight.
A few weeks ago, I interviewed a homeless man at the studio where he paints. Every morning, he goes to a room in a church, sits in a certain spot near the corner, and puts brush to canvas. His work is hopeful and happy, despite his predicament. The day I sat with him, he painted two laughing ladies in a park, one in a pink polka-dotted dress and matching shoes.
We started to talk about the election, and another man joined in. I asked if they were registered to vote. The other man said that he had tried to send in the proper forms, but didn’t receive a card, something about his address. It’s hard to get mail at the shelter. Finally, though, he succeeded. The man I was interviewing hadn’t registered, though he wanted to vote. I told him he could go to the library and do it online. He said he’d try. He knew whom he would vote for. I got the feeling that he might be easily frustrated with the process, and wanted to put him in my car and take him that second.
Last night on television, I heard Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. talk about how the oldest, most decrepit voting machines are sent to poor black precincts. He urged people to vote early, if they could, to avoid this and other tactics of suppression. I called the shelter to find out if they were helping people register, and whether they’d be providing transportation to polling places on Election Day. The man said that most of the people who stay there have just come from prison, or are trying to beat their addiction to drugs, or don’t have driver’s licenses. Voting isn’t something that these men are up to right now. But, if someone had the identification and the desire, the shelter would help him any way it could, he told me. I wonder if the men know to ask.